I am aware that a recent research paper by Cornell University has expressed concerns about methane emissions during unconventional gas exploration and extraction. The outputs from this research note that other studies estimate lower loss rates for both methods of extraction and that more research is required. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Unconventional gas exploration and extraction (UGEE) Joint Research Programme (2016) cites this paper’s author and others also noting that there is a ‘narrow set of primary data’ to draw on for the emissions over the full life cycles. When considering the full life cycle of the fossil fuels and comparing them, it is also important to look at the full range of impacts such as air, water and land pollution (NOx, Particulate matter, SOx, Ozone, mercury, water quality and disposal of waste residues). In Ireland the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Act 2017 provides for the prohibition of exploration for and extraction of onshore petroleum by means of hydraulic fracturing. However, outside this jurisdiction, the production, sourcing, buying and selling of natural gas are operational matters for the undertakings involved.
I am in the process of stepping up Ireland’s ambition to switch to renewable sources of energy in the All of Government Action Plan which I am developing. Even under this ambitious plan, natural gas will remain an important part of the transition.
During this transition, natural gas has the potential to deliver significant and sustained benefits, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply. Natural gas can also play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the power generation, industrial and commercial, residential and transport sectors by replacing more CO2-intensive fossil fuels.