Opinion 'Just one week after banning fracking, we started drilling for oil'

We need a just transition to a low carbon economy, not a sell-off of our future, write Sinead Mercier and Louise Michelle Fitzgerald.

IN AN ORWELLIAN twist of double-speak, on 11 July, just one week after onshore fracking was banned in Ireland, Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten granted consent to Providence Resources PLC to commence drilling for oil in the Porcupine Basin off our south-west coast. 

If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, existing fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. Providence Resources states that they expect to find 5 billion barrels of oil. 

As George Orwell wrote in 1984, “doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”.

Catastrophic climate change

As a terrifying example, the Department of Climate Action has allowed for the burning of these 5 billion barrels despite international climate experts warning that 80% of the known fossil fuels have to stay in the ground if we want to avoid going over the safe 2 degrees limit of global warming.

Such action is a dereliction of the duty and responsibility of the Office to protect our climate, the burning of these barrels would bring the Irish State far and above its carbon budget under the Paris Agreement, signed by 175 countries. 

If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, existing fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. As head of the Department for Climate Action, we call on Minister Naughten to retract the Providence Resources permit immediately. Furthermore, we call on the Minister to follow the lead of France and ban all new oil and gas exploration in Irish waters. 

Beyond climate change impacts… 

Irish seas have already been plundered by corporate interests. With governmental permission, large corporate fishing trawlers have extensive access to Irish waters, to engage in unsustainable and irresponsible fishing practices. Local Irish fishing communities now have more to fear as the exploration and extraction of oil and gas has serious consequences for marine life and ecology.

The journal, Nature, has shown that one blast from oil and gas exploration kills 64% of zooplankton – the basis of the marine ecosystem – for up to 0.7 miles. 

At a time when our Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature endangered list, the government cannot play games with the vulnerable future of our ecosystem or fishing communities. Oil and gas exploration is also deadly for Ireland’s dolphin, whale and porpoise population. 

There is no excuse for fossil fuel exploration and extraction due to the damage it causes to people’s health, our ecosystem, future generations, and countries in the Global South most affected by climate change. But even if you did want to burn your house to stay warm, Ireland has one of the lowest government takes for oil and gas in the world. 

It’s not even profitable…

For the dirty companies involved, extraction of oil and gas from the Irish Sea is not even a profitable endeavour. Shell Oil recently left the Corrib gas field with losses of 2 billion. Companies like Providence Resources risk not only the destruction of our fish stocks, tourism industry and marine life, but their own investments. Providence Resources itself announced annual losses of €20.5 million this April.

The millions that it costs to set up new fossil fuel infrastructure represent stranded assets as oil prices are unlikely to go above $60 a barrel and divestment movements worldwide gain momentum 

Minister Naughten recently spoke to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the need for investment in a just transition to a fossil free Ireland. There are peer-reviewed studies which outline how Ireland can transition to a 100% renewable energy system without increasing the costs of energy. This is possible while also creating 100,000 additional Irish jobs.

Any investment in fossil fuel industry and infrastructure will result in what is known as “carbon lock-in”, taking us on a one-way unstoppable trip to dangerous levels of global warming. Naughten’s department needs to match talk with action and halt all investment fossil fuels, instead providing workers with real, sustainable long-term jobs that can provide for their families and our future. 

Working for a better future, not short-term gain 

As young people in our 20s, we have never lived on a safe planet. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now stands at 400ppm, a level not seen by life on earth in over 15 million years. We are now living through the 6th mass extinction, caused by a rush for short-term profits, to the cost of the future of our planet.

This government’s progressive actions on climate change, such as banning on onshore fracking, mean little in the face of such destruction. We are asking you to stop supporting the destruction of our planet and climate, already leading to death, disease, famine, subsistence poverty, refugees and conflict. 

Orwell’s 1984 highlights the importance of science in a post-fact world: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows”. It is time to break free from the baseless logic that monetary profit is more valuable than people and planet, a logic that has caused climate change in the first instance.

It is time to recognise that are lives are based on interconnectivity with other species in a complex ecosystem. Let’s create something new, based on equity, justice and respect for all humans, other species and our planet.

Sinead Mercier is a legal researcher and Louise Michelle Fitzgerald is an environmental researcher. The petition is available here:

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