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Minister criticised for committing to offshore oil drilling and saying it can deliver benefits to the Irish people

Junior Minister Sean Canney dismissed a Bill which aims to stop the issuing of any new licences for the exploration of fossil fuels.

Image: Shutterstock/Lukasz Z

COMMENTS MADE BY Junior Minister Sean Canney about the benefits of oil and gas exploration off the coast of Ireland have been described as “extremely worrying”. 

Speaking to Irish oil and gas exploration stakeholders at the Atlantic Ireland Conference last night, the Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources Seán Canney dismissed the Climate Emergency Measures Bill.

The Bill calls for a ban on fossil fuel exploration off the Irish coast and aims to stop the issuing of any new licences for the exploration of fossil fuels.

The government lost a vote on the proposed legislation in February, which allowed it to proceed to Committee Stage in the Oireachtas, despite the government’s opposition.

The passing of the Bill puts Ireland on a path to being the fourth country in the world to ban fossil fuel exploration. 

Costa Rica, Belize and France have already implemented similar measures.

Regarding the future exploration for fossil fuels in Ireland, Canney told the conference that the Irish government “recognises that the realisation of Ireland’s offshore oil and gas resource potential can deliver significant benefits to the people of Ireland”.  

He said Ireland imported 100% of the country’s oil needs in 2017, while for gas, it was a much lower figure of 34%.

“This is largely because of the addition of the Corrib gas field in late 2015. In fact, gas provided almost 60% of Ireland’s entire indigenous primary energy production,” he said, adding: 

While our overall consumption of fossil fuels will reduce over time, the level of fossil fuel imports will not decline at the same rate. This is a concern.

The junior minister said future scenarios show that there will be less of these fossil fuels produced within the EU, adding that oil and gas exploration off the Irish coast will  provide security of supply, import substitution and fiscal return for the Irish people. 

In his conference speech, he said: 

So the question is – how does Ireland meet its demand for fossil fuels as we transition to a low-carbon energy system – do we solely rely on imports or seek to source them ourselves?

Canney said discovery and development of Ireland’s offshore oil and gas resources “has the potential to deliver much-needed energy security. In addition, offshore discovery and development has the potential to be a very significant economic driver for Ireland”.

Speaking specifically about the Climate Emergency Measures Bill, he said if made into law it would stop future oil and gas licensing offshore Ireland.

“Whilst no doubt well-intentioned, the Bill will do nothing to reduce our use of oil or gas, it will do nothing to help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and it will do nothing to help us meet our 2020 and 2030 energy and climate targets.

“Instead, it proposes simply to bind us to only importing our future oil or gas needs. By any estimation we will continue to need oil and gas supplies into the future, in particular for aviation and marine transport, and in displacing more carbon intensive coal and peat in electricity generation,” said Canney. 

He reassured the stakeholders in his address that despite the Bill being passed by 78  votes to 48, “the Bill remains purely a legislative proposal”.

“Government policies in respect of climate action, energy and offshore exploration, and the application of such policies, remain unchanged,” he said, adding: 

But let me be clear, that our expectation, and indeed requirement of you as an industry, is to meet the highest environmental standards and practices in carrying out your activities offshore Ireland.

Criticism

Reacting to the junior minister’s comments today, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith TD said it was “extremely worrying” and “depressing”, stating that the minister effectively pledged government support for future exploration for gas and oil in Ireland.

“He is ignoring the science, he is ignoring the reality of climate change and he is ignoring the most recent IPCC report and our commitments to the Paris Treaty. It is, in fact, this government that will do nothing to reduce our Co2 emissions,” she said, adding: 

Is the minister denying the fact that 80% of proven reserves of oil and gas must remain in the ground to give us any chance of stopping catastrophic climate change? Or is he just saying that doesn’t concern him?

Smith condemned the minister for acting “as a cheerleader for fossil fuel exploration companies” who she stated “don’t give a damn about the climate or facts”. 

The TD added that the Climate Emergency Measures Bill will proceed through the Dáil regardless of the Government’s opposition and that it had huge support from many people across the country.

The Green Party has also slammed Canney’s comments, describing them as “yet another step in the wrong direction in Ireland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

Green Party Spokesperson for Environmental Protection, Natural Resources, Marine, and Tourism, Senator Grace O’Sullivan said it was yet another example of “short-sighted policy in the middle of a global emergency”.

“This government is not rising to the task of tackling the global emergency we are in, as they are too busy attending conferences to sell fossil fuels that can never safely be burned… We have the opportunity to lead on this, but instead the government is working to make the problem worse,” added O’Sullivan. 

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