Gas Networks slams drill ban bill as ‘flawed’

By Geoff Percival

State-owned utility Gas Networks Ireland has branded a bill aimed at banning future oil and gas drilling in Irish waters as “flawed” and “counter-productive”, adding that it will not aid the country’s attempts to lower its carbon emissions.

Managing director Denis O’Sullivan told the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and the Environment that the increased use of renewable energy still needs to be supported by natural gas provision, which currently powers 52% of Ireland’s electricity.

“Natural gas underpins the Irish economy and is a key driver of job creation and economic growth. Because it is clean, flexible, and cost-effective, it is the fuel of choice for employers in Ireland’s key economic sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals, IT, tourism and leisure and a key consideration for foreign direct investment companies,” he said.

The committee was holding its third session, in as many weeks, focusing on the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Climate Emergency Measures Bill 2018, drawn up by People Before Profit TD Brid Smith and passed into committee stage by the Dáil in February.

In previous weeks, both the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association and Ibec warned of Ireland becoming even more dependent on imported fuel sources and the country’s security of energy supply being threatened if the bill is written into law.

The International Energy Agency told the committee that “a profound shift in investments is needed to meet sustainable development goals, but investment in new oil and gas projects is required even in deep decarbonisation scenarios”.

The latest sitting heard from Greg Muttit, from UK-based climate and energy think-tank Oil Change International, who said natural gas is “part of the problem, not the solution” and that the bill will help Ireland meet its emissions targets and give it greater influence on the world stage regarding climate control.

Gas Networks Ireland, which develops and operates Ireland’s natural gas network, said it “strongly advocates” the continued replacement of heavily polluting fuels, such as coal, peat, and oil, but said natural gas can lower emissions and will be required for Ireland’s power generation for the foreseeable future. That went against claims from Paul Allen, of Zero Carbon Britain, who outlined the benefits of a 100% renewable model to the committee.

“If this bill were passed, within a decade Ireland’s gas supply could potentially be 100% imported, a situation not seen since 1978,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

“While this bill has the laudable goal of tackling climate change, we believe that it is flawed and may be counter-productive. It could reduce our security of energy supply and will not contribute, in any meaningful way, to emission reduction.

“While Ireland has excellent renewable energy sources and potential, such as wind and solar, renewable energy is intermittent and needs the reliability of gas. Eirgrid’s target for renewable growth is predicated on having natural gas to support this target... Within the last fortnight, wind generation has fallen as low as 24 megawatts, about 0.5% of required supply at the time,” he said.

“While we strongly support climate action, we believe that the measures proposed in the bill will not assist Ireland in achieving its climate change targets, but instead will potentially commit Ireland to importing the vast majority of its energy requirement.”

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