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Natural Gas Imports

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 24 January 2019

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Questions (6)

Mick Wallace


6. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the growing trend of US multinational involvement in the gas industry across Europe; if he or his Department has had input into the proposed gas terminal on the Shannon Estuary backed by a fund (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3404/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Communications)

There are currently 14 liquid natural gas terminals in the planning or building stages around the EU. They are mainly the result of a deal struck between Trump and Juncker last year, with Trump commenting afterwards that the EU was going to be a very big buyer of US liquid gas. The terminal being built on the Shannon will lock us into future fossil fuel use when our future energy policy needs to focus on renewables. Why are we allowing this private company to do this?

Consistent with European energy policy, gas markets across Europe are commercial, liberalised and competitive. Europe is currently importing approximately 70% of its gas needs, with this share expected to increase. The diversification of sources is important for security of supply purposes. The involvement of US or other companies or corporations in the European gas industry is a commercial decision by those entities in a liberalised gas market. The EU has acknowledged the importance of importing gas from the USA and other sources to diversify and render its energy supply more secure.

At present Russia is the largest source of these imports, whereas the USA is of the order of 1% to 2%.

The diversification of sources of supply is important for security of supply purposes and liquid natural gas, LNG, offers the opportunity to diversify supply.

In Ireland since the Corrib field opened, we have reduced our dependence on gas imports from 95% to approximately 33% in 2017. However, that reliance will rise again as the flow from these fields reduces. We import from just one source in Scotland.

The Shannon LNG project has been designated am EU project of common interest. Ireland has supported that designation as it offers Ireland the potential for improved security of supply.

In August 2018 Shannon LNG announced it had entered into an agreement with New Fortress Energy to develop the proposed LNG terminal at Ballylongford, County Kerry. As this is a private commercial project, any future investment decisions on the development of this project are ultimately the responsibility of the project promoters, subject to compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.

The Minister of State did not say that it increases security. The Government is moving away from Russian gas and going to America and wants to frack gas, which is twice as damaging. It is a scientific fact that US gas is fracked gas. It releases more than twice the amount of methane than conventional gas, which comes from Russia which is already more damaging to global warming than coal.

This is nuts. It is not going in the right direction in terms of climate change. There is no evidence that this is a good climate action decision. Royal Dutch Shell invented the idea of natural gas as a bridge fuel in 2001. We are still talking about it 20 years later. The reality is that over a 20-year period, liquid natural gas is dirtier than coal and diesel oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy produced. This is because of the unburned methane that is released through the extraction, processing, transport, storage and combustion of that gas. I have been looking at stuff from Cornell University, which is one of the leaders in this field. It has pointed out that "reducing methane is absolutely key to meeting" the UN COP21 targets.

I have listened intently to what the Deputy has been saying. I would like to explain what we have to do right now in terms of our supply. We have to transition to cleaner sources of fuels. In the meantime, we need to have a transitionary period. We cannot say we are not doing this or that. The Shannon project is a private enterprise that is governed by EU regulations. This means it can be done. There is a need for secure supply right now. In 20 years' time, we will have transitioned away from this type of fuel but we cannot do it overnight. I mentioned earlier that Bord na Móna is moving from peat to other sources of energy. This transition will take time. We are working on that. At the same time, we need to have security of supply. We cannot rely on one source alone.

The Minister of State is admitting that by buying fracked gas from America, we are going to a dirtier fuel now. There has been a myth about gas as well. I have looked at the Minister's responses over recent months. It has been said that we are following EU guidelines. As far as we are concerned, the unelected EU Commission is in the hands of the fossil fuel industry. The carbon dioxide emissions from gas are far less than those from coal and diesel, but the methane element is disastrous. Cornell University has pointed out that "Earth's climate system responds too slowly to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, and warming to 2°C and higher will occur within the next 35 years unless methane emissions are reduced below current levels". The Shannon facility will lock us into something that is not positive in the context of where we should be going as we seek to deal with the challenges of climate change. This is not a way forward. The Minister of State is arguing that we will have no security without this facility. Rather than pursuing a dirtier fuel using fracked gas from America, we would be better off staying better friends with the Americans to bring us to a point where we will be using more renewables.

I agree with the Deputy that we have to get to a stage where we will be using more renewables. That is part of the whole-of-Government action plan on climate change. As I said earlier when we spoke about the warming of our fisheries, this is happening and we have to face up to it as a reality. We need to have an adult conversation about it. We have to make sure whatever we do is done in a way that involves a transition to the proper place. I do not disagree with what the Deputy has said about the research that exists. We need to make sure we can secure supply for the moment. I agree with the Deputy that we need to move away from fossil fuels to a cleaner society.

Deputy Mattie McGrath was at the Business Committee when we reached Question No. 4. With the permission of the House, we will return to that question now.

I do not know.

Deputy Mattie McGrath has a number of friends in the House.

We will leave him off with it.

I have my reservations.

The Deputy's reservations will be noted.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is one of the better ones.

That will not be noted.

I have to be on my best behaviour. I was trying to organise the business for next week.