Analysis & Comment

Mandy Johnston: 'Can we afford to leave security of our energy supply in the hands of Johnson and Trump?'

Strained Anglo-Irish tensions, fuel shortage warnings and power blackouts in Britain as well as warships in the Straits of Hormuz should be setting alarm bells ringing for Ireland’s energy security.

We simply cannot risk our energy supply being held hostage by politics in Europe, an energy hungry larger neighbour or instability in the Middle East.

The reality is that we are now just weeks away from becoming the only member state isolated from the EU’s integrated energy networks. Brexit will leave us dependent on the co-operation of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new bullish approach to guarantee access to gas imports.

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With continuing tensions in the Gulf, and more warships on the way, the timing could not be worse.

Every day 20pc of the world’s oil supply comes through the straits which are the ground zero of the stand-off with Iran. The impact on prices and supplies will not be good.

Other figures which underline the crux of the issue are that oil and gas provide 78pc of our primary energy requirements. Most of this is gas and half of that is imported via the UK.

In light of recent blackouts in Britain, as well as dire warnings of fuel shortages in leaked government papers, it is questionable whether our nearest neighbour would remain open to sharing energy when there is a danger of their own lights going out.

If there is some comfort we can draw on it is the reliability of our Irish offshore gas fields, especially Kinsale and Corrib. Both have served us well, with Kinsale Head having given an uninterrupted four decades of service.

However, it is also true that Kinsale is now almost at the end of its lifespan. Corrib, which once provided 60pc of our natural gas needs, is also now producing less and less gas each year.

What is needed is a serious mature discussion on how we can meet our growing energy needs.

As the representative organisation for our industry seeking to repeat the success of Kinsale and Corrib, the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) welcomes any debate informed by science, evidence and fact.

Unfortunately, so far much of the recent discussion had more to do with politics than facts. Some politicians shied away from discussing the reality of energy security in favour of the latest hashtag trending on Twitter.

It is time for policies which recognise the dangers, reflect the reality and offer the best options for jobs, the economy and the environment.

The chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Dr John Fitzgerald, is correct in his recent 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 recent hot weather natural gas provided 80pc of our power. At the same time the contribution from wind fell as low as 0.6pc.

Other countries know the risks. The benefits of domestic reserves have been long established in Norway, Scotland and Canada.

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 produces 34-38pc more greenhouse gas emissions than using Irish gas. Liquified natural gas imported from Qatar produces 22-30pc more emissions than gas from Irish offshore fields. There is also the reality that gas fracked in Donald Trump’s America, or oil from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, would not be produced under the same stringent environmental conditions we have here.

Climatic 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.

As a sector, we welcome the Government’s recent Energy Action Plan. It sets out how every individual, community and sector must change habits.

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

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

There is a question which must be answered and not dodged: do we leave our energy security in the hands of Johnson, Trump and the powerful in some of the most unstable parts of the world, or do we seek to repeat the success of Kinsale and Corrib?

At the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, we believe there is only one sensible answer. That is developing the best and most innovative technologies, meeting the highest international standards of best practice, and working collaboratively with other energy industries.

That’s good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment.

Mandy Johnston is chief executive officer of the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association

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