By Mandy Johnston, CEO, Irish Offshore Operators Association

Modern Ireland should be about creating well thought-out and pragmatic solutions to real problems without the politics of gesture.

Yes, we all have a collective responsibility to consider and implement the appropriate paths to a lower carbon world.  To do this we must work together to create progressive policies which can make a meaningful and positive impact, without undermining the prosperity of Ireland for our future generations.

Much has been written and said about the need for Ireland to balance climate action with energy security into the future.

As the representative organisation for those seeking to repeat the success of Kinsale and Corrib gas finds off our coast we welcome a debate informed by science, evidence and fact.

The Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Dr John Fitzgerald, is correct in his assessment that gas will remain a significant part of the energy mix for the next 20-years of transition.

As if to underline the point it is important to note that during the recent period of fine weather natural gas was providing 74.6% of our power. This compares with just 2.4% from wind, a figure which during last year’s heatwave fell even lower to 1%.

To put it simply gas together with oil is keeping the lights on, production going and companies working 22-hours a day.

The threat to that energy security is facing a ‘high political risk’ according to John Teeling of Petrel Resources, it is a view shared by many of our members and one which poses significant challenges for industry in this country now and in the future.

It is time for a reality check on the benefits of Irish gas and the role it plays in not only securing jobs, but also reducing our carbon footprint.  The benefits of domestic reserves have been long established in Norway, Scotland and Canada.

Norway is generally cited as one of the more progressive low carbon economies in the world whilst remaining to be the largest producer of oil and gas in North West Europe.  And in the past month even the Canadian Green Party has called for a ban on imports in favour of domestic supplies.  Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wants to ‘turn the tap off’ for imports arguing ‘as long as we are using fossil fuels it should be our fossil fuels.’

The same is true here.  Russian Gas imported to Ireland creates 34-38% more Green House Gas emissions than using Irish gas. Liquified Natural Gas imported from Qatar 22-30% more.

There is also the reality that gas fracked in Donald Trump’s America, oil from Vladimir Putin’s Russia would not be produced under the same stringent environmental conditions we have here.

Climate arguments aside there is also the danger of handing over security of supply to political or business decisions made in Moscow, Riyadh or Washington. Hardly wise in these uncertain times.

Thankfully up until now our own supplies have protected us from being completely vulnerable to such global uncertainties. Kinsale and Corrib have been our lifeline. However as both age out there is a danger that we will be importing 90% of our gas needs by 2025.

Brexit too poses a threat as we have no direct interconnection to the rest of the EU. With this uncertainty it is hardly surprising that when we tested public attitudes, we found that 82% of people believe we need to protect ourselves by developing our own energy resources.

As a sector we are totally committed to working with local communities, policy makers, industry, environmental agencies and many others to do this.

We welcome the Government’s Energy Action Plan published earlier this month. It sets out how everyone, community and sector must change habits, practices and review how they carry out their day to day business.

It recognises that that as a country we must look at how get our power. Yes, renewables have a role to play with wind, solar and wave but gas with oil will also be there.

Even if the most ambitious targets are met to reduce CO2 emissions by 95% by 2050 (Government White Paper on Energy) over a quarter of our energy will still come from gas and oil.

Thankfully there are other innovative actions which we can also take. For example, the action plan commits to examining Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).  There has been very exciting work going on to develop this process in countries such as Norway.

It allows carbon from an industrial source, for example a power plant or other factory site, to be captured rather than released into the environment and put back into exhausted gas sources, in other words the spaces under the earth created when fuel is taken out.

The results are very promising, and we believe with Kinsale and Corrib at the end of their lifespans in the coming years there is potential for Ireland to develop international expertise in this area.

This is the type of innovative approach which is needed to ensure the correct balance is struck into the future.

We believe the success of Kinsale and Corrib, the local economic benefits they have delivered and the national energy security they have offered can be repeated. As a sector we are ready to play our part.

It makes sense for the economy, for jobs and for the environment.

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