Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 1 May 1979

Vol. 313 No. 11

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Oil Supplies.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy to give details of the oil reserves which this country is obliged to maintain by virtue of EEC regulations and the location of such reserves.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he has received complaints from the EEC Commission regarding the failure to observe the EEC requirements for oil reserves kept within the State.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he is satisfied that storage of oil by the State complies with the EEC requirements of the 90-day storage potential.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will indicate the present stocks of petroleum supplies in this country and the procedures which apply between him and the oil companies in determining the available supplies.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he is satisfied with the present level of co-operation from the oil companies with particular regard to determining the levels of petroleum supplies and stocks held in Ireland.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 7, inclusive, together.

This country is obliged under EEC directives to maintain stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products corresponding to 90 days average daily internal consumption in the preceding calendar year. In calculating internal consumption, three categories of product are taken into account:

(a) motor spirit and aviation fuel,

(b) gas oil, diesel oil, kerosene and jet fuel of the kerosene type, and

(c) fuel oils.

Provisional figures collected by my Department show that, on 17 April 1979, the stocks of oil, calculated in accordance with the relevant EEC directives, amounted to 78, 69 and 93 days respectively in the three categories, representing about 83 days overall. Roughly 19 days supply is stored in other member states—the United Kingdom, France and Belgium—and the remaining stocks are stored in this country.

At present, weekly returns of stocks are made to my Department by the oil companies with checks carried out by officers authorised by me. For the purpose of complying with the directives crude oil stocks may be taken into account. It has been found, however, that the EEC system of converting crude oil to products on a national basis can be misleading and a more comprehensive and realistic reporting system is being introduced.

I have received no complaints from the EEC Commission regarding the failure to observe the EEC requirements for oil reserves kept within the State. It should be noted that the directives, which originally came into effect in 1971, permit the holding of stocks in other member states.

First of all, I want to ask a question about internal stocks. Has the Minister included the oil at the Whiddy Island terminal, and if so how much?

Part of the oil at Whiddy is included, as it has been for many years, in so far as the crude element in the stocks is concerned. The amount allocated in respect of Whiddy is 135,000 tons, which amounts to ten days supply.

The second aspect relates to overseas stocks. Where exactly are these stocks and how accessible would they be in times of difficulties?

I have already given the three countries.

Where exactly are they in those countries?

I do not know exactly where they are in those three countries.

Surely this cannot arise.

It arises because of the accessibility to these stocks in times of crisis. Is the Minister not able to tell me exactly where the stocks are in those other countries?

I have not ascertained in precisely which tanks they are but the companies who own them know exactly where they are. If I had wanted to I could have asked, but I do not think it is of any great importance where exactly they are.

Is the Minister satisfied that he has received in the recent past full co-operation from the companies concerned in regard to their storage facilities and the grades stored, and has he taken more comprehensive measures or does he see the need for more comprehensive EEC measures in relation to stocks held by the companies? Does he see the need for that to be incorporated in his own surveillance?

As I mentioned in the reply, I do not find the EEC system for calculating these stocks satisfactory from our point of view because it includes what they term the converted value of crude, which would not be readily available in an emergency—it would have to be refined. That system is regarded by the EEC as sufficient for their purposes. In the past three weeks I have made arrangements for a much more regular return of stocks both at home and abroad.

Does this mean more regular consultation with companies operating within our territory than heretofore?

They have to give this information on a weekly basis.

Is it broken down into component parts?

Is the Minister aware that Irish revenue and excise officers in the various depots throughout the country, including Whitegate, on a daily basis take stocks and are fully aware of the exact amounts in stock and that therefore the surprise and amazement expressed by the Minister some weeks ago as to what precisely the companies had and had not was, to say the least, a bit of special pleading on his part? Would the Minister not agree?

I would not agree.

In fact, they knew to the last gallon what was there.

The Minister said that he had figures taken in regard to oil stocks in various categories for 17 April. Were these figures the ordinary weekly figures which he referred to in the next sentence or was that a separate check which he made himself?

As far as I am aware this was the first of the special comprehensive checks made.

But 17 April was Easter Tuesday, five days after the Minister took on the international oil companies.

The check was completed on that day but it was started before the weekend.

Why was no check made three months earlier when the first warnings of oil shortage were being sounded?

Because I had no reason to believe at that time that the figures might not be accurate. Indeed, in fairness to the companies, although they were somewhat higher in respect of some areas, they were found in general to be in accordance with the figures supplied. The main difference was that in the past there was a relatively long gap in respect of the periods during which the returns were made.

Now that we are concerned with fairness to the companies, would the Minister tell us how he allowed a month or six weeks to go by between the first time when he made noises about multi-national companies holding us up to ransom and actually having a check made of what oil was in store in the country? He made this check five days after the order which was supposed to downface the companies for good.

The check was started on the day on which that order was made.

That is about six weeks too late.


Would checking and re-checking create more oil?


The Minister referred to 19 days of our supply being held overseas and he referred in his reply to three countries. I did not hear what countries he referred to.

I referred to the United Kingdom, France and Belgium.

Where in those countries are these reserves held?

They are held in oil refineries.

Is that on a general basis?

It is a matter for the companies concerned as to where exactly in those countries they want to keep it.

Would the Minister enlighten us on the arrangements to get the supplies here in the event of an emergency at present?

I believe it is brought in by tankers.

Surely there is a difference between stocks held in Wales and stocks held in the South of France?

The Minister contended that the oil companies held up supplies early this year hoping for an increase in prices. Is that still the Minister's position?

That was never my position.


Did the Minister not accuse the oil companies of not cooperating with the Government in not releasing stocks and that he had introduced, under the 1927 Bill, an order instructing them to release stocks, the implication being that they had not being doing it up to then?

After the order was made there was an immediate relief in the situation.

Was it because the oil companies released more stock?


Is it not true that the oil companies, as the Minister for Finance revealed last week, released 11.6 per cent more stocks in the first three months in 1979 than in 1978 and that this information was available to the Minister at the time he went on with this public show?

Is the Deputy suggesting now that there was no shortage at all and that I should have done nothing?


I am happy to say that after I made the order under the 1971 Act the problem seemed to come to an end very rapidly.

It was the Minister's fault. He did absolutely nothing for three months except to make arrangements to go abroad.

Is the Minister satisfied now that with the present arrangements there is no danger that oil companies with their monopoly control over distribution can withhold supplies in the future in anticipation of price increases? I ask this since it was the public feeling during the last shortage that it was artificially created in anticipation of increased prices?

That is a separate question and it is dealt with later in the Order Paper.

Is the Minister aware that, so far as supplies of domestic heating oil is concerned, some of the companies are informing their customers that there will be a minimum of eight weeks' delay in delivering?

That may be so. I am not aware of what the companies are telling their customers but domestic heating oil is not a priority under the order which I made.

Why have we got heaters in here so?

So can the fact that it is not available be attributed to the Minister's order?

It is not a priority under the order which I made. I have to ensure that users whose needs are, for example, related to employment, would get priority?

Would the Minister not agree that in some cases where there are old people, very young children or people who might be ill it could be a priority?

Yes, it could, and if application is made in cases of that kind they will be looked at sympathetically.

Applications made to the Minister?

Made to my Department.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if, in view of the recent shortage of oil and petroleum products in the country, he will arrange to have the question of oil supplies to Ireland raised at the next European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if it is intended to seek any EEC assistance in the arrangement of future oil supplies.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Question Nos. 8 and 9 together.

The shortage of petroleum products, particularly gas diesel oil and, to a lesser extent, motor spirit, which has been experienced in consuming countries this year was caused by a number of factors including the Iranian crisis, and increased demand due to severe weather conditions. Supplies to this country were in fact significantly higher in the first quarter of 1979, as compared with the corresponding period last year, due mainly to additional demand arising from increased economic activity.

It may be taken that energy matters will continue to be discussed and this country's viewpoint adequately presented at appropriate EEC meetings. Meanwhile, all necessary steps will be taken, under the aegis of the EEC, the IEA and other international organisations, to ensure that available oil supplies are distributed equitably and that due account is taken of the fact that our dependence on imported oil is higher than in many other countries and that our economy is rapidly expanding.

The Minister is aware of the previous European Council's decision to cut consumption overall by 5 per cent. How does this relate to his general energy policy here?

Naturally I agree with and support the recommendation of the European Council that our consumption should be cut. I might add that it is more difficult for Ireland than it is for many other countries because our growth rate is much higher; it is higher than any other European country. Also the ratio of increase in oil usage or energy usage to increase in GNP is a higher ratio here than it is in other European countries and this creates particular difficulties for us. We have been at some pains to point out that the 5 per cent cut back which was agreed on at the European Council and at the international Energy Agency meeting in Paris in France should be related to projected 1979 demand rather than to actual 1978 usage.

Would the Minister reconcile for the House his admission made here just now that the reduction in oil usage is an important objective to which he himself subscribes with the admission which he made via his Parliamentary Secretary here last week in answer to a question from me that while in 1976 £70,000 had been spent on publicity promoting energy conservation, in the first three months this year the sum of £150 was spent? Would the Minister like to comment on that disparity?


The Minister says it is particularly difficult for Ireland because of our high economic growth and higher ratio of increase in energy consumption to our increase in GNP as compared to any other country in Europe. Surely these factors should be taken into consideration in arriving at an estimation of the amount of oil to be used in this country in 1979? Therefore a 5 per cent reduction for us is no more difficult than for any other country.

It is because the usage in many other countries is only marginally above their 1978 levels and some of the oil companies have been seeking to supply by reference to the 1978 usage rather than to the projected 1979 demand.

If the Taoiseach's 1979 demand announced at the Council was accepted, then it is no more difficult for us than for anybody else?

It is one matter for the European Council or the IDA to accept it. It is a different matter for the companies to implement it.

I do not think so at all.