The Fine Gael Government is hell bent on blocking Brid Smith’s Climate Emergency Measures Bill which would ensure fossil fuels in Ireland are left in the ground. Writing for Rebel, Owen McCormack exposes the many dangerous mistruths spread in the hopes of blocking this bill, and protecting the oil and gas industry.
Despite declaring a climate emergency, the Irish Government continues to block People Before Profit’s Climate Emergency Measures Bill which seeks to ban exploration for oil and gas. Scientists tell us we need to leave 80% of proven reserves of fossil fuels in the ground to limit global temperature increases to under 1.5 degrees. Already, we are seeing record heat waves, droughts and polar ice melting alongside huge biodiversity losses at just a 1 degree rise. Anything higher will result in catastrophic climate change. It makes absolutely no sense for the government or the industry to look for more fossil fuel resources, unless they believe that potential profits come before the planet.
The Government’s use of a ‘money message’ to block the PBP bill has been deemed by many recently—including the Irish Times—to be constitutionally dubious. Intended to prevent the undermining of the state’s management of its finances by blocking bills which would introduce a conflicting fiscal agenda, it has been used more often to block all sorts of bills which the government opposes, including those which aren’t even primarily focused on expenditure or would require very minimal expenditure. As pointed out by Eoin Daly and David Kenny in the Times, it is worth reminding ourselves that this is a minority government, who should have no right ‘to override legislation passed by a democratic parliament.’
Government Lies Exposed
Companies like Providence Resources, Exxon Mobile and the Chinese state oil company are all looking for more oil and gas in Irish waters. They have lobbied hard and found support within the Government who will act to block the Bill which threatens their interests. But the block on the Climate Emergency Measures Bill is not based on procedural minutia, it is based on lies.
- That they will have to repay application fees to companies who the state would now have to refuse a licence to as a result of the Bill. This is a lie. In fact, the State has never repaid any application fees to companies it refused a Petroleum licence to. In response to a Dáil question, the relevant minister recently admitted:
“Since…2007, twenty three applications for petroleum authorisations have been considered and declined…. no refund of application fees has been made…it is not practice to return application fees for a petroleum authorisation”
- That companies with a licence have an automatic right to renew or progress that licence.
This is another lie. In fact, in response to another Dáil question, the Minister admitted that:
“the Licensing Terms do not provide for the automatic renewal of an exploration licence.”
- That a company could sue the state if it changed the rules around the licencing for exploration for oil and gas and that would cost millions in legal fees from such claims. Yet another lie. The terms and conditions that companies accept when they apply for a licence make it clear that they cannot sue or make any claims for compensation if there are changes to the licence and that the Minister has wide powers to alter the terms. For example the 2007 terms and conditions state:
“The Minister may….. require that specified exploration, exploitation, production or processing activities should cease …..where the Minister is satisfied that it is desirable to do so in order to reduce the risk of injury to the person, waste of petroleum or damage to property or the environment. No claim for compensation may be made against the Minister on foot of any such requirement”.
For some categories of licences the Minister can refuse exploration or processing if he thinks it is in the public interest or if he thinks the find of oil and gas is not commercial, or if he thinks there’s an issue with the applicant’s policy in regards to the environment. In short, a minister has wide powers to refuse applications.
- That the state would have to repay yearly “acreage fees” to companies.
This is a lie. The Bill does not affect existing Licence holders. If a company has an exploration licence it pays fees per acreage each year. If this bill becomes law, that company is still free to continue looking for oil and gas as under the terms of its existing licence. If it finds oil and gas that it wants to extract, it requires a different licence. The Minister would not be able to issue that new licence unless CO2 was reduced to less than 350 ppm—essentially unless the Climate Emergency was over. There is no reason to suppose the state would have to return fees for a licence that is not impacted by the new law. Moreover, in every case where companies have tried to sue the state for changes to license regimes they have lost. The state can and does alter the rules even if this has a negative impact on the potential profits and earnings of some of those affected. The State recently declared a Climate Emergency. When it announced a financial emergency, the Government had huge powers to alter the law and regulations and even to curtail the rights of workers and property rights. But the suggestion that multinational oil company access to our oil should be curtailed seems to be out of the question. For Fine Gael, then, this is about priorities.
- Richard Bruton, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, claimed that Brexit would mean that Ireland’s gas could be cut off. Unsurprisingly, this is another lie. His letter stated:
“The Bill gives no consideration to Brexit, after which Ireland will have no gas interconnection with the EU and one electricity interconnector (which has yet to be built). Therefore, the Bill fails to consider the future of our energy supply”
In fact the CRU (Commission for Regulation of Utilities), the Government agency responsible for gas and electricity, had stated last year:
“Ireland trades both gas and electricity with Great Britain through interconnectors, even in the event of a no deal Brexit on 30 March 2019, this trade, in both gas and electricity, will continue. There is an all island wholesale electricity market, called the Single Electricity Market or SEM. The SEM will continue to operate in the event of a no deal Brexit on 30 March 2019. “
“Flows of gas between Great Britain and Ireland take place through the gas interconnectors. Trade across these interconnectors is facilitated by a European trading platform, known as Prisma. In the event of a no deal Brexit, Prisma will continue to be used and trade will be unaffected. Gas will continue to flow.”
Gas networks Ireland even stated:
“Gas Networks Ireland is satisfied that there will be no adverse impact on gas flows due to Brexit, including in a no-deal scenario. We anticipate no disruption to the importation of gas from Great Britain to Ireland on a daily basis, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”
- That the Climate Emergency Measures Bill means that Ireland would lose lots of potential revenue from any future oil and gas finds.
In fact, the terms that companies get licences under means the state gets little, if anything, in taxes and royalties. The Corrib gas field, for example, is unlikely to result in ANY tax paid to the state. Royalties were scrapped for oil and gas companies decades ago. Oil and gas exploration companies can claim back all the costs of research and exploration before they even have to pay a penny in tax. Effectively, the state has given away the country’s oil and gas reserves even before anyone has even found any.
- That we should use our own oil and gas, and not import it from Russia or the Middle East, which would be better for the environment.
Another bogus argument against the bill is ‘energy security’. They say we will become reliant on Russian gas in the future if we stop searching for our own source—wrong!
Firstly, our existing supplies come mostly from Corrib and the North Sea. The gas that comes from Britain is a mix of mostly North Sea and Norwegian gas, not Russian. Well before these sources run out we need to be at 100% renewables if we are to really tackle climate change.
Secondly, gas or oil found in Irish waters does not belong to Ireland. Previous Governments signed away the rights to any new finds. Any company that finds new sources of oil or gas in Irish waters is under no obligation to sell it to Ireland and if it does, it does so at market prices. Many of the licences for exploration come out at great depths in the Atlantic (so called ‘frontier licences’), meaning it’s as likely that any major find here would be shipped off by the company that found it, as it is that it would be brought to Ireland.
If we keep supporting exploration here, we can’t expect that others will stop. There is already too many known reserves of oil and gas in the world. If these were burnt the global temp could rise by 4 or 5 degrees meaning human civilisation would face almost certain collapse. In fact, not only should we not build new fossil fuel infrastructure, we may have to retire much of what is built much earlier than was previously thought. A recent study concluded that to reach the Paris targets, not only could no new infrastructure be built (no new wells or sources of oil and gas), but that existing ones would have to be decommissioned early.
The sources we get gas from now are built around an existing infrastructure. If we develop new sources we must build a new infrastructure around that. This means less resources going into renewables and more investment diverted into fossil fuels.
Ironically, many in the industry who raise concerns about Russian gas and Putin have no problem doing business with them. The likes of David Horgan of Petrel Resources has very publicly attacked People Before Profit for wanting to make Ireland reliant on Russian Gas; ironically his company has been trying to build an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in Crimea with Gazprom, the giant Russian gas and oil company.
- That we will still need gas even if we reach our targets and gas is a transition fuel less damaging than oil or coal.
Wrong again. Gas can emit less CO2 than coal and sometimes oil, but it is still a fossil fuel and reliance on it will not reduce our CO2 emissions by the level required. Some studies show that the new sources of gas, often fracked from North America, can actually be as bad as other fuels due to what’s called methane leakage from pipes needed to transport the fuel.
There are at present no commercial sources of gas or oil discovered in Ireland aside from the four producing wells; Seven Heads, Kinsale, Ballycotton and Corrib. The Climate Emergency Measures Bill does not affect those wells.
It took 30 years to get Seven Heads from discovery to production. It took 19 years to get Corrib from discovery to production. Any discovery today may take decades to see oil or gas produced. Some of the licences issued by the Government in recent years can be used till 2030 and beyond. This means the Government and the fossil fuel industry here have no intention of stopping production and emissions of CO2 by 2050, regardless of what the science tells us will be the consequences.
We must stop exploration for oil and gas today, not in 20 years’ time when it will be too late.
Whether the Fine Gael lies are misunderstandings on their part—which would indicate a massive level of incompetence from individual ministers and the government as a whole—or they are purposeful mistruths used nefariously to assist their friends in the oil and gas industry, these actions could be considered to be criminally negligent, since the consequences to humanity are so severe; impeding efforts to restrict fossil fuel usage, to keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees and to save the planet from climate destruction.
The movement for a just transition to a climate friendly society grows globally by the day. Here in Ireland, school children continue to strike for their futures, groups like Extinction Rebellion are gaining momentum and support for the Climate Emergency Measures Bill is on the rise.
Going forward, the role of socialists will be vitally important in building these movements around the world, but also in shaping the conversation, away from individual solutions and measures like the carbon tax, which would disproportionately affect the poorer, and towards an urgent debate about the role of capitalism in climate change and the inability to create a climate friendly society while capitalism remains.