There are no plans to change Government policy in respect of offshore oil and gas exploration. In the context of Ireland's transition to a low carbon energy future, it is accepted that Ireland will continue to need oil and particularly gas for quite some time, though their use must significantly reduce. Ending all future oil and gas exploration in Irish waters and placing a full moratorium on exploration activity would not impact the amount of emissions Ireland creates by burning fossil fuels; rather it will commit Ireland to source all of its oil and gas from abroad.
The Government's approach to tackle emissions from fossil fuels is to focus efforts on energy efficiency and renewable energy which make essential contributions to all of the major objectives of climate and energy policies, including improved competitiveness, security of supply, sustainability, and the transition to a low carbon economy.
Minister Bruton has secured Government approval to develop an all of Government plan which will set out the actions which must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change.
Notwithstanding occasional speculative comment as to the potential of the Irish offshore in terms of oil and gas, it is only through active exploration that such potential will be proven. Ireland’s offshore remains underexplored with only a fraction of the exploration experience of Norway and the UK.
Early exploration efforts viewed the petroleum geology of the Irish offshore as being comparable to that of the North Sea. However, lack of success from drilling efforts in the 1970s and 1980s led to a decline in interest. However, industry perspectives have been transformed in recent years. While the North Sea comparison retains potential, two new possibilities have also emerged. Successful exploration off the Atlantic coasts of Africa and South America has stimulated new interest in the prospectivity of the Atlantic margins, with new data, analysis and targets. Research on the Newfoundland-Ireland conjugate margins has demonstrated the potential for Ireland to replicate the oil and gas success of Newfoundland-Labrador exploration.
Marine industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration and production, require careful assessment, management and regulation in order to protect the marine environment.
In advance of the 2015 Atlantic Margin Licencing Round, my Department undertook the Irish Offshore Strategic Environmental Assessment (IOSEA) 5 Environmental Report in respect of oil and gas exploration activities in the Irish offshore. Policy in respect of exploration activities carried out under a petroleum authorisation is informed by IOSEA5.
Proposals to carry out exploration or production activities on a petroleum authorisation in the Irish offshore, for example the acquisition of seismic or the drilling of a well, are subject to assessment of compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. In addition, the observations of the National Parks and Wildlife Service regarding potential impacts on Annex IV Protected Species and sites protected under the Birds and Habitats legislation are sought.
The recent completion of the ObSERVE Programme led by my Department has highlighted the rich diversity of cetaceans and seabirds in the Irish offshore. The findings of the Programme are already informing the environmental aspects of decision making in respect of applications for exploration activities.
Scientific research regarding the potential for exploration activities to have an adverse impact on plankton and fish with trophic links to cetaceans is limited and not settled. My Department is mindful of the need to keep abreast of current international research projects in this regard.