Irish Independent

Ban­ning gas ex­plo­ration makes us re­liant on UK

- Tom O’Brien Tom O’Brien is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Nephin En­ergy, part owner of the Cor­rib gas field. Business · European Politics · UK News · Ecology · Energy · Politics · Industries · Mining · United Kingdom · Green Party · Ireland · Fianna Fáil · Fine Gael · European Union · Brexit · Oil and Gas Mining · British Politics · Kinsale

RE­CENT de­vel­op­ments prove the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to rely on the UK for crit­i­cal gas sup­plies may not have been the right one. On May 21 in the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, I set out the rea­sons I thought the Green Party’s pro­posal to ban fu­ture gas ex­plo­ration in Ire­land was not a good idea.

Un­for­tu­nately, dur­ing the pro­tracted gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion talks be­tween the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Greens’ pro­posal made it into the Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment.

One of the rea­sons I thought a ban was a bad idea was be­cause it would mean “lock­ing our­selves into a fu­ture where we are 100pc re­liant on post-Brexit Bri­tain for our nat­u­ral gas sup­ply”.

Sadly, we did not have to wait long for proof that re­ly­ing on the UK may not be a good idea.

The choice fac­ing the Gov­ern­ment ear­lier in the sum­mer was whether Ire­land should try to pro­duce some of the gas it needs at home and re­peat the suc­cess of the Kin­sale and Cor­rib fields or im­port the gas from the UK. The Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted Ire­land to the im­port op­tion.

Around the same time the Gov­ern­ment was opt­ing to rely on UK im­ports, and only seven days af­ter my ar­ti­cle ap­peared, the Bri­tish en­ergy reg­u­la­tor Ofgem an­nounced changes to its charg­ing regime. So what, you might ask? What has this got to do with Ire­land end­ing ex­plo­ration?

Well, when the changes come into ef­fect on Oc­to­ber 1, the cost of im­port­ing gas from the UK will in­crease, which will in turn in­crease the cost to house­holds and busi­nesses.

Our Ir­ish reg­u­la­tors and util­i­ties spot­ted the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of the UK’s pro­posed tar­iff changes and asked for cer­tain mod­i­fi­ca­tions and dis­pen­sa­tions from Ofgem.

Th­ese in­cluded the in­tro­duc­tion of a spe­cific “Ire­land se­cu­rity dis­count” at the key UK sup­ply point, the Mof­fat in­ter­con­nec­tor.

The dis­count was in­tended to help en­sure se­cu­rity of sup­ply. The Ir­ish pointed out that the Mof­fat in­ter­con­nec­tor was built specif­i­cally to end Ire­land’s en­ergy iso­la­tion as an EU mem­ber state so the dis­count, they ar­gued, was ap­pro­pri­ate.

Ofgem re­jected the sug­ges­tions, ef­fec­tively say­ing they were not pre­pared to make a spe­cial case for Ire­land.

So, what does this tell us? It tells us the UK is not pre­pared to do Ire­land any favours and is un­moved by the fact we rely on them so heav­ily for our gas sup­plies rather than find­ing our own. The UK is no longer a mem­ber of the EU club and so the re­quire­ment to look af­ter Ire­land as it did be­fore no longer ex­ists.

This is sig­nif­i­cant. The Kin­sale gas field ceased pro­duc­tion in July and the sup­ply from the Cor­rib field con­tin­ues to de­cline.

The Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to end fu­ture ex­plo­ration means Ire­land will have to rely more and more on the UK for nat­u­ral gas.

In fact, the one guar­an­teed con­se­quence of end­ing ex­plo­ration is we will be 100pc re­liant on the UK for th­ese crit­i­cal sup­plies in the fu­ture.

Gas is so crit­i­cal be­cause of the role it plays in our en­ergy mix. Dur­ing the first half of this year, it pro­vided 50pc of all power gen­er­a­tion and at times fu­elled over 80pc of Ire­land’s elec­tric­ity. Many in­dige­nous and multi­na­tional com­pa­nies rely on gas.

Ap­prox­i­mately 650,000 house­holds de­pend on nat­u­ral gas for home heat­ing. When the weather co-op­er­ates, re­new­ables can con­trib­ute hugely to our en­ergy re­quire­ments, and their con­tri­bu­tion will grow over the com­ing years.

How­ever, the in­ter­mit­tent na­ture of re­new­ables means we will con­tinue to need large amounts of gas to run our coun­try.

Nat­u­ral gas pro­vides the base load sup­port our en­ergy sys­tem needs, the type of sup­port re­new­able en­ergy is unable to pro­vide. With­out the flex­i­bil­ity gas pro­vides, our en­ergy sys­tem would not work.

In fact, gas will play an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role as Ire­land de­car­bonises over the com­ing years, as we shut down coal and peat-fired gen­er­a­tion.

It is why the Ir­ish Academy of Engi­neer­ing es­ti­mates that in the fu­ture gas will ac­count for more than 90pc of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion at times of very low re­new­ables gen­er­a­tion.

It is ironic then that at a time when our reg­u­la­tors were ask­ing for and be­ing re­fused a “se­cu­rity dis­count” from the UK, our Gov­ern­ment ef­fec­tively chose to make Ire­land re­liant on the UK for its en­ergy se­cu­rity.

No coun­try should con­sciously and vol­un­tar­ily place it­self in a sit­u­a­tion where it must rely 100pc on another coun­try for its vi­tal nat­u­ral gas sup­plies, yet that is ex­actly what we are do­ing by de­cid­ing to end fu­ture ex­plo­ration.

It is clear from th­ese re­cent de­vel­op­ments that the UK post-Brexit will look af­ter it­self first and fore­most. Its re­cently an­nounced in­ten­tion to break in­ter­na­tional law in re­spect of the Brexit With­drawal Agree­ment tells us all we need to know about how the UK might be­have in the fu­ture.

I don’t think it is ter­ri­bly sen­si­ble to place Ire­land’s en­ergy se­cu­rity in the UK’s hands. We will have to swal­low what­ever cost in­creases th­ese tar­iff changes bring. In truth, we will have to pay what­ever price the UK deems ap­pro­pri­ate in the fu­ture; af­ter all, with­out our own in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion we won’t have a choice.

As re­cently as De­cem­ber 17, 2019, the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment pub­lished a pol­icy state­ment on petroleum ex­plo­ration.

It talked about the im­por­tance of gas ex­plo­ration, the “re­quire­ment to pro­tect Ire­land’s en­ergy se­cu­rity”, in­clud­ing ref­er­enc­ing the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits “of us­ing in­dige­nous over im­ported source… in terms of lower car­bon im­pact, em­ploy­ment and tax yield”.

In recognitio­n of this, it an­nounced it was go­ing to com­mis­sion an en­ergy se­cu­rity re­view this year.

Un­for­tu­nately, the new Gov­ern­ment has done a U-turn on this po­si­tion.

It has cho­sen to ban fu­ture gas ex­plo­ration be­fore car­ry­ing out an en­ergy se­cu­rity re­view. It has cho­sen to ig­nore the fact that im­port­ing gas is worse for the cli­mate and for the econ­omy than us­ing in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion.

It ap­pears de­ter­mined to sac­ri­fice im­por­tant, com­mon-sense en­ergy poli­cies for rea­sons of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency. It has no strat­egy or plan to di­ver­sify the gas sup­ply and it is putting the coun­try’s en­ergy se­cu­rity at risk as a re­sult.

We are only start­ing to see the con­se­quences of this ap­proach now. We can only hope our politi­cians re­con­sider their ap­proach be­fore the cost to Ire­land be­comes even higher.

UK re­quire­ment to look af­ter Ire­land as it did no longer ex­ists

We will have to pay what­ever price UK deems ap­pro­pri­ate

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Fall­ing en­ergy: The Cor­rib gas field (left) sup­ply is de­clin­ing, while the Kin­sale gas field fin­ished op­er­a­tions in July
Fall­ing en­ergy: The Cor­rib gas field (left) sup­ply is de­clin­ing, while the Kin­sale gas field fin­ished op­er­a­tions in July

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland