Legislation aimed at banning oil and gas exploration off the Irish coast is now in limbo after an inconclusive vote on December 18 by an Oireachtas committee.
The Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment had been expected to vote in favour of the proposed Bill, thereby pushing it forward to committee stage before the Dail, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament. But the vote was evenly divided, meaning the move failed.
The Bill seeks to amend Ireland’s Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act to stop the issuance of new licences for the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels.
Opponents to the bill argue that further oil and gas exploration offshore Ireland is essential for the country’s energy security during its transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2050.
The proposed ban on exploration would not reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to Minister of State for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Sean Canney, who tabled amendments opposing the bill.
Senator Michael McDowell said the legislation – for which he also tabled opposing amendments – was "ill-conceived" and that Ireland would continue to depend on fossil fuels for some time.
During earlier committee debates, Denis O’Sullivan, managing director of state-run Gas Networks Ireland, had warned the bill could "reduce our security of energy supply, and will not contribute in any meaningful way to emission reduction."
Ireland would have to import 100% of its gas supplies if the bill passed, he added, noting that the Corrib field – which currently furnishes 50% of the country’s needs – looks set to run dry by 2025.
Supporters of the bill argue that allowing companies to engage in further exploration off Ireland’s coast would not guarantee the country’s energy security.
Amanda Slevin, an academic focused on hydrocarbons management, noted in July that private companies were "under no obligation" to sell oil and gas produced in Irish waters to the government but could simply transport output to other countries in tankers.
And even if they decided to supply Irish consumers, the government must pay full market prices, she added.
The committee is to reconsider the issue in the New Year.