Offshore drilling is energy backstop

Offshore drilling is energy backstop

A bill currently before the Oireachtas seeks to ban offshore oil and gas exploration and production. 

It will do nothing to promote increased use of renewable energy in Ireland and threatens the country’s energy security, already uncertain due to Brexit.

Since the early 1990s, Irish and British energy policies have steadily become more interlinked.

This island has a single market for electricity, and there is significant integration in the gas markets.

Gas and electricity interconnection between Ireland and Britain has increased.

Through the EU, our markets for oil, gas, and electricity are part of a wider interdependent European market, influenced by more and more common rules coming from the EU.

So, the pipelines and cables that transport our energy supply have become more and more entwined. 

Ireland is connected to the UK via three gas and two electricity interconnectors under the Irish Sea and a new North-South electricity interconnector is planned. 

Both Britain and Ireland import large amounts of energy, and what happens in one jurisdiction has an impact on what happens in the other.

However, as the outcome of Brexit continues to remain uncertain, we cannot take our energy security for granted.

Leaving aside Brexit uncertainty, the general global volatility means Ireland must do everything it can not only to protect its existing energy sources, but to seek new ones.

Conventional energy sources remain of key strategic importance to Ireland.

Natural gas represents 30% of our country’s primary energy mix.

Yes, we have made progress in developing renewable sources and they offer great potential to provide new, indigenous energy. 

But today’s reality is that 52% of Ireland’s electricity is powered by natural gas.

While renewables continue to grow, they remain an intermittent energy source. In summer 2018, for example, wind generation sometimes provided less than 1% of total electricity demand. 

Gas was then required to supply over 90% of our power. So, while wind is an excellent energy source, it needs a backstop – to borrow a phrase.

Oil and gas account for 78% of our total primary energy requirements.

Offshore drilling is energy backstop

Even with the Corrib gas field, Ireland imports nearly 50% of our gas and this arrives via the UK. As for oil, we import 100% of our needs. 

When oil and gas are imported, carbon emission levels are increased – due primarily to transportation and, in the case of hydrocarbons from outside Europe, due to less efficient production systems.

The Climate Emergency Measures Bill from People Before Profit, which is currently before the Oireachtas, proposes that no new oil and gas exploration licences be granted in Ireland.

This would be worth considering if the energy currently provided from these sources could easily or realistically be replaced by renewables.

Moving from fossil fuels to renewables is a good thing in everyone’s eyes.

But this bill would do nothing to promote the use of renewables.

The gas and oil off our coasts which could not be used if this bill is passed will not be replaced by renewable energy. They will be replaced by imported oil and gas and these will cause higher emissions.

Dependence on imports for our energy supply is a bad idea at the best of times. But at present, choosing to depend on increasing imports seems the height of folly.

Brexit increases energy security concerns and leaves Ireland crucially exposed to potential supply disruption.

Offshore drilling is energy backstop

A significant proportion of our oil and gas supply is already sourced from countries such as Algeria, Qatar, Russia, and Azerbaijan.

It seems particularly unwise for politicians to choose to make us even more reliant on such countries, while leaving domestic gas and oil in the ground off our coast.

But this is what many of them currently propose to do.

It seems like there is a touch of virtue-signalling going on here, but it could have major costs for Ireland.

The Irish people seem to take a more sensible view.

According to a recent independent public perception study carried out by Edelman Intelligence, 82% of people believe Ireland needs to protect itself from the negative impact of Brexit — by exploring our own energy resources.

Those bringing foreign direct investment to Ireland also need to see us as a country with long-term energy security, not one voting to leave indigenous energy supply in the ground in favour of imports from far-flung countries.

Oil and gas have provided a consistent, affordable, and secure source of energy fuelling growth in the Irish economy — when the Corrib gas field came on stream it produced 60% of the gas consumed in Ireland. 

However, the Corrib reservoir will cease to produce in the early 2030s.

So, let’s continue the move towards renewables and do so at a quicker pace. But when we get around to abandoning energy produced by Irish oil and gas, let’s ensure we can replace it with energy produced through wind and solar, wave and renewable gas sources, not oil and gas from Azerbaijan and Algeria.

Mandy Johnston is chief executive of the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, the representative body for the Irish offshore oil and gas industry

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