By Geoff Percival
The main representative body for oil and gas exploration companies in Ireland has branded the initial passing of a bill targeting the banning of drilling in Irish waters as “disappointing” and a danger to the country’s security of energy supply.
The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Climate Emergency Measures Bill 2018 — drawn up by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith — was debated in the Dáil on Wednesday before being voted in favour of, securing the backing of 78 TDs, with 48 opposing it.
Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Green Party and Sinn Féin all supported the motion — albeit each with certain caveats — potentially putting Ireland on a path to becoming one of only four countries, after France, Costa Rica and Belize, to cease issuing new licences to companies to drill offshore for fossil fuels.
The bill will now advance to the committee stage, although there are concerns among supporters that the Government may block or dilute it at a later stage when amendments can be made.
The vote follows a similarly successful one for the banning of onshore drilling, or ‘fracking’, last summer.
The Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) said a ban on drilling for indigenous oil and gas will not decrease emissions and won’t help Ireland along the way to a low carbon economy. It said more clarity is needed on the bill “very soon” and said, in its current form, it will only create “significant degrees of uncertainty” in the industry.
IOOA chairman Pat Shannon said solar and wind farms are not ramping up fast enough to meet Ireland’s energy demand, and while the country is getting 60% of its gas provision from the Corrib field, when that starts depleting, we re-enter the risky world of importing fuel from Britain as Brexit becomes a reality.
“The IOOA would favour a wider and informed debate on Ireland’s policy on energy security in the context of government framework for transition, energy efficiency, renewable energy and offshore exploration as has been suggested by Minister Kyne.
"This would be preferable to the approach taken in the present bill, which will not decrease emissions but instead will increase Ireland’s exposure to supply risk and decrease energy security,” Mr Shannon said.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the vote marked a historic day for environmentalism in Ireland, noting that “the tide has turned on fossil fuels, and there is widespread political support now for a just transition to renewable power.”
“If we are to keep global temperature rises below 1.5-2 degrees, avoiding climate chaos, then 80% of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground. By signing the Paris Agreement, Ireland committed to such a plan,” he said.
When debating the bill in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Ryan said Ireland no longer needs oil or gas and there is no risk to security of energy supply by not using what lies under our own waters.
“The real security risk is missing out on the economic opportunity of switching the other way [to full reliance on renewable sources for energy needs] and leading the curve,” he said.
In a slightly surreal addendum, the Greens also managed to garner support from music legend Cher, who tweeted her support for the legislation and the party’s attempts to protect “Ireland’s visiting population of 250,000 dolphins”.