Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Questions (57)

Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Communications)

We will move on to Question No. 57 in the name of Deputy Bríd Smith. I understand the Minister of State is taking Questions Nos. 57 and 58 together.

Could I ask for an explanation as to why these questions are being taken together because they are quite separate? This is unusual. My questions have been taken with those from other Deputies previously.

The Deputy can take it up with the Minister of State.

Could the Minister of State give me an explanation?

Perhaps he can do so when he replies if the Deputy poses her first question, Question No. 57.

Could I get an explanation before I ask either question or both questions? Why are they being taken together?

We will allow the Deputy the extra time.

It is not about the time.

We will take Question No. 57.

Bríd Smith

Question:

57. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if plans by a company (details supplied) to commence exploratory drilling off the south coast in June 2019 for oil or gas will aid plans to make Ireland a world leader on climate change and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14168/19]

View answer

Could the Minister of State tell me whether plans for Exxon Mobil to commence exploration drilling for oil or gas off the south coast in June 2019 will add to plans that will make Ireland a world leader in climate change?

An application from Cnooc Petroleum Europe Limited, which was previously known as Nexen Petroleum UK Ltd., to drill in the Porcupine Basin was submitted on 14 November 2018. The application was posted on the Department's website for public consultation and no decision has been made. Exxon Mobil has a 50% non-operating interest in the licence. An application is considered against a range of technical, environmental and financial requirements. In addition, the operator must obtain a safety permit from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and approval by the Irish Coast Guard for the company's oil spill contingency plan and the well emergency response plan.

On the question of whether this complies with our objective of becoming a world leader in getting rid of fossil fuels, I repeat what I said last night. The challenge here is how we transition from where we are now to being without fossil fuels. As the Deputy will know, we have depleting gas supplies from the Corrib and Kinsale fields. We have to make sure we have security of energy supplies in this country.

I am not sure whether the Minister of State is aware that ExxonMobil faces losing its lobbying privileges in the European Parliament because it failed to show up for a hearing into climate change denial. I think I mentioned this last night, although the Minister of State did not comment on it. ExxonMobil has snubbed the European Parliament as certain MEPs have been attempting to drive forward an understanding on climate change. This large oil giant supports carbon taxes, but at the same time it is renowned for its ability to engage in climate denial. It denies the science. Even though it knows the damage that exploration is causing, it has funded campaigns to block action on climate and is refusing to face up to its environmental crimes. I suggest that because ExxonMobil has a partnership or relationship with Providence Resources off the coast of County Kerry in the south west of this country, we have no chance of saying legitimately that as a Parliament, and indeed as a Government, we are taking seriously the question of action on climate change. I do not think the Government has defended that sufficiently.

The application has been made and is going through due process at the moment. I reiterate that if we are to transition to a low-carbon economy, it is expected that we will require significantly reduced fossil fuels for some time to come. Until we get there, we will still need to have fossil fuels for our families, farmers and businesses. We envisage that exploration will continue to have a role in the Irish offshore. Banning exploration would not reduce Ireland's emissions and would not help our 2030 emissions targets. It would make Ireland 100% dependent on importing gas and oil instead of using our own natural gas. We know that Ireland's indigenous production at the Corrib field is declining. The Kinsale field is approaching the end of its life. Furthermore, importing our energy over long distances from third countries could have the perverse effect of increasing emissions as energy is consumed in delivering this product to Ireland. We have to transition. In the meantime, we have to protect our energy supply and make sure we have enough energy here to keep our families, farms and businesses in existence.

The repetition of the words "families, farms and businesses" does not pull at my heartstrings. I doubt that it pulls at the heartstrings of millions of people who support the "keep it in the ground" campaign, particularly the kids who marched recently. It is absolute and utter nonsense to say this would not reduce our emissions. Of course it would reduce our emissions. What the Minister of State really wants to say is that he does not understand what is going on. He thinks our emissions stop dead at the borders around our seashores, but that is not the case. This is a global problem. The emissions that come from any fossil fuels which are extracted affect the entire planet. By allowing licences to take more fossil fuels out of the earth, we are adding to the planet's overall carbon emissions. The Corrib field has 15 years left. That will bring us close to 2035, by which time we should almost be totally dependent on renewables if we are to reach our targets. Given that the Government continually objects to reliance on Russia and other politically unstable areas, why is the Minister of State saying that when the Corrib field is depleted 15 years from now, we will need to rely on ExxonMobil and other related companies that work closely with Chinese and Russian oil companies? The future should be carbon free.

I agree that the future should be carbon free. The Citizens' Assembly did not recommend banning oil and gas exploration. There has been no change. The Joint Committee on Climate Action is considering the options for reducing emissions. I repeat that the Bill about which the Deputy has spoken would not reduce our emissions. Instead, it would make us more dependent on imported natural gas. The Deputy has mentioned that the Corrib field will deplete. It will not keep going at the same volume right up until 2030. It is reducing year by year. We have to understand that we are looking at the security of our energy. We are seeking to make sure we continue to do business as we transition from where we are now to a low-carbon economy.

I totally reject the question of security. I repeat what I have said to the Minister of State.

We are finished with Question No. 57. We are moving on to Question No. 58.

Okay. They were separated in the end. That is grand.