Plans to develop gas and oil fields only serve corporate interests

SENAN HOGAN (Irish Examiner, March 10) reports Progressive Democrat Fiona O’Malley’s support for the Shell-led consortium’s plans to develop the Corrib gas field.

The Centre for Public Inquiry’s report on this scheme (November 2005) includes expert technical assessment of the safety risks. The risks are real and are systematically understated by Shell and its supporters in officialdom. It is a case of ‘space shuttle syndrome’. This ‘has come to mean a complex organisation rushing to launch at all costs, failing to fix or address fundamentally flawed initial approaches, while utilising poor risk management to cloak their misguided confidence everything will work’.

Ms O’Malley declares the Corrib project ‘is in the national interest’. The ‘national interest’ in this project is virtually non-existent. There are no royalties on gas and oil, corporations enjoy a 100% tax write-off against capital expenditure over the last 25 years, and there is no State participation in the oil and gas industry. These terms were conceded in 1987 by the then Energy Minister, Ray Burke. In 1992, Bertie Ahern, as finance minister, made further concessions.

The State abandoned all principles of good offshore management and effectively forfeited ownership of its territory to oil and gas corporations. The public benefit from exploration and production of natural resources is non-existent. In addition, the public must buy our gas and oil at ‘market prices’.

It could have been different. In 1975, Labour’s Industry and Commerce Minister, Justin Keating, modelled his gas and oil regime on that of Norway, where the state had 50% participation in exploration and production, was paid royalties on production, and benefited from substantial corporation tax. But when Keating was succeeded in 1977 by Ms O’Malley’s father, Desmond, later founder of the PDs, the Irish National Petroleum Corporation was precluded from drilling or production by O’Malley’s ideological opposition to public enterprise.

Whose national interest is better served by the different approaches Norway and Ireland have taken? Norway’s effective taxation of oil and gas profits today is 78%. Through its 70% stake in Statoil and 44% stake in Norsk Hydro, the Norwegian state is directly involved in oil and gas exploration. The government-controlled Petroleum Fund of Norway, worth €154 billion, is invested for the benefit of future generations of Norwegians.

In Ireland, the only interests served by current plans to develop the Corrib and other gas and oil fields are corporate interests.

Dr Colmán Etchingham

People Before Profit Alliance

Ballinagilkey

Hacketstown

Co Carlow

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