The offshore petroleum sector in Ireland incorporates oil and gas. There have been four commercial gas finds in the Irish offshore, with no commercial oil finds. There are two active gas production facilities in Ireland, Corrib, Co. Mayo operated by Vermillion and Kinsale, Co. Cork operated by Kinsale Energy (DCCAE, 2019c). As at December 2019 there are eight licencing options, 35 petroleum exploration licences, and five petroleum prospecting licences in the Irish offshore, held by 30 companies.
In September 2019 then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a ban on oil drilling in 80% of Irish waters, which was subsequently extended to all waters. The Policy Statement issued by DCCAE on 17th December 2019 makes it explicit that all future licensing will be for gas only and not oil (DCCAE, 2019d).
As of early 2020, offshore drilling for gas in Irish waters is still allowed. This is a very dangerous policy for many reasons. Here are some of the main reasons why we oppose offshore drilling and call for an immediate moratorium on all oil and gas exploration.
We need to keep it in the ground
The maths is clear: if we want to stop global temperatures rising to catastrophic levels, 80% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. A lot of the known fossil fuel reserves are already being extracted. We cannot afford to start building rigs and pipelines to extract even more. And we definitely cannot afford to look for even more fossil fuels. But that is exactly what the Irish government and fossil fuel companies are trying to do. This policy is based on a world where we do not manage to keep global warming below 2 degrees, a world which will be much harsher to live in, for people in Ireland and all around the world.
Offshore drilling harms marine life and existing jobs
Recent research has shown that the process of offshore drilling is hugely harmful for marine life. When exploring for oil and gas, fossil fuel companies use a technique called sonic booming. Sonic booming is lethal to plankton, which provide food for larger fish. It also causes internal bleeding in large sea animals like whales and dolphins. Oil wells emit toxic chemicals into the seas and contamination from oil spills can reach coastlines up to 600 miles away.
The Irish fishing industry supports 11,000 jobs in mostly rural areas. Fishing communities have observed decreased fish stocks following offshore drilling. Further fossil fuel extraction will threaten Ireland’s valuable seafood industry.
Tourism employs 220,000 people and provides €7.8 billion to the Irish economy. Much of this tourism is based on our beautiful natural environment, including our seas and coastlines. Marine animals like Fungie are also a major draw for tourists. Allowing offshore drilling threatens our beautiful natural environment, and the thousands of jobs that rely on it.
The people won’t gain from offshore drilling
Ireland has one of the most pro-corporate drilling policies in Europe. The state gains very little in tax from any offshore drilling projects. Fossil fuel companies do not have to sell the oil and gas they find to Irish consumers, nor do they have to sell it to us at a cheaper price than the oil and gas we currently buy from other countries. And in reality, fossil fuel exploration in Ireland has been costly and unproductive. Fossil fuel companies use offshore drilling as speculation to boost their share prices, even though chances of actually finding oil or gas are slim. This speculation threatens marine life, our coastal landscapes and the fishing and tourism industries that rely on them. Oil and gas will not benefit the Irish people, only the profit margins of fossil fuel companies.
Offshore drilling will delay our energy transition
We all know that we need to transition as fast as we can away from fossil fuels and towards community-owned, renewable energies. While we still need some oil and gas in the short term, exploiting new fossil fuel resources is not the way to do this. Relying on one energy source means it will be very difficult to switch to another. As long as the government can base its energy policy on the unlikely chance of finding oil and gas in Irish waters, it will have no incentive to invest in renewable energies. We are already facing fines of €455 million for failing to meet our emission reduction targets. Relying on Irish oil and gas will hinder our emission reduction plans even further. Instead we need to focus on moving towards a fossil free future.
Figure ES-1: Oil Change International. Check out their website for more information on carbon budgets and the true cost of fossil fuels.
Oil Spill Image: Stacey Revere