A key moment has arrived for Ireland which will not only dictate the supply of energy for our economic growth but will also be seen as an international barometer of our openness to business, investment and cutting-edge technology.
Soon the Government will unveil a new policy paper on offshore exploration, the implications of which will be with us for decades.
It is important that Ministers use the opportunity to put in place policies which will guarantee long term energy security to underpin a successful economy which can attract investment and jobs.
Exploration companies which collectively have invested over €1b in Ireland over the past 10-years to try and repeat the success of the Kinsale and Corrib gas fields are anxiously awaiting the publication of this paper as it will determine international investment attitudes.
At the very least concrete and real steps must be offered to restore confidence to a sector which has been operationally paralysed for almost two-years.
Very often during this period evidence and facts have been side-lined in favour of high passion and emotion with little regard for any long-term implications. At times in the debate the only voices acknowledged appear to be those who shout the loudest.
The well-motivated and ambitious plans outlined in the Government’s Climate Action Plan, while challenging have been welcomed by energy and exploration industry leaders. However, other arguments put forward aimed at grabbing headlines rather than cutting carbon emissions are little more than opportunistic virtue signalling.
This charged political atmosphere has created uncertainty about existing offshore exploration licences. There has been little regard for the negative impact this debate is having on existing exploration licenses, not helped by the ambiguity on how the Government’s goal of separating oil and gas exploration for future licences can be achieved.
As a sector we have been working hard through the Irish Offshore Operator’s Association (IOOA) to restore confidence within the international energy industry on the attractiveness of investment in Ireland. It has been a difficult and, at times, frustrating task.
The reality is the current policy and regulatory void has left global investors scratching their heads wondering why a Government seems determined to handover the security of its energy supply to foreign powers, in an act which will also ironically increase our carbon emissions.
The fact that importing gas via post Brexit-Britain which originated in Qatar or Russia is likely to create up to 30% more carbon emissions that using our own has either been completely lost by those with political goals, or possibly just conveniently ignored.
Worldwide these same energy companies and investors also underpin the development of cutting-edge renewable energy technologies including the world’s largest floating wind farms, all weather solar farms as well as cleaner gas.
Such investments take place where energy companies are satisfied that the regulatory process is transparent with firm timelines and deadlines.
Right now Ireland does not fall into that category.
A lack of political will is leading to the real danger that not only will companies walk away from current investments but they will take with them all their expertise and funding for future renewable energy.
Energy supply is a sector where forward planning is made across decades not the next month, year or indeed next election.
In terms of developing our offshore wind and wave potential, the impact of the current uncertainty could be devastating. The awe-inspiring magnificent power off our Atlantic coast, which must of us have been lucky to see at first hand will lie untapped.
The potential to repeat the €25m a year which Corrib pumps into the local economy of Mayo and Donegal, and similar injection by Kinsale into the economy of Cork will end.
There are also much wider implications. Energy intensive industries, pharmaceuticals, our IT sector as well as farming, manufacturing and production will all be reliant on the whim of the international markets.
Post Brexit Britain, Russia and Qatar will ultimately be deciding the price of our gas, it will be for nuclear powered France to determine the cost of our electricity.
Another unintended consequence will see more carbon intensive gas imports leaving us struggling to meet our international environmental commitments.
The upcoming Cabinet deliberations on this issue are an opportunity to bring some long overdue certainty on energy supply back to Ireland.
An opportunity for Government to be absolutely clear to Irish and international investors that existing exploration licences will be honoured every step of the way.
An opportunity to show that we are a country which wants to maintain some energy independence and repeat the past successes off the Cork and Mayo coast. A chance to acknowledge that doing this makes sense for regions, jobs and climate action.
It is an opportunity to show that we remain open to energy companies who are diversifying their portfolios.
In the spirit of partnership we are happy for the Government to access the expertise of our member companies to assist Ireland in achieving its goals. We are also willing to be active participants in the Independent Review of Ireland’s energy supply and security which the Government has announced for the New Year.
Mandy Johnston is Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA)