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Irish Republic’s ban on offshore drilling for gas will make it 90% reliant on Britain by 2030 – a clear warning to UK policymakers, a new Offshore Energies UK report will say

15 March 2023

March 13, 2023

Ireland is becoming ever more reliant on Britain for gas supplies, with UK imports more than doubling since 2017 to 75% of Irish demand, and set to hit 90%, a report from Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) will say.

By 2030 the Republic of Ireland could be 90% reliant on gas pumped from the UK via pipelines running under the Irish Sea from Scotland. Details will be contained in OEUK’s Business Outlook Report 2023, due out on March 28. Publication of the report is a key annual event, providing in-depth analysis of the UK’s energy security, energy supplies and progress on emissions reduction, for policymakers and other stakeholders, as well as the industry itself. 

OEUK’s report will warn that Ireland’s growing reliance on imports could be ‘irreversible’ because of an Irish government decision to stop issuing new exploration licences for oil and gas. It means that, as Ireland’s existing gas fields become depleted, it has very limited ways of replacing them.

Ireland’s growing reliance on the UK for primary energy illustrates the importance for all countries of maximising energy efficiency and domestic energy production.  

OEUK’s report will say that, in the short term, the UK must not give in to pressure from environmental groups calling for similar bans on North Sea oil and gas exploration. Such a move would leave the UK in the same situation as Ireland – increasingly dependent on other countries and exposed to global shortages. In the longer-term energy independence will come from accelerating the move to low carbon energies.

There are three gas pipelines running from Scotland under the Irish Sea. One takes gas to Northern Ireland while the others feed into the Irish Republic. See this link for a map. See this link for the Irish government’s supporting data.

Natural gas meets over 30% of the Irish Republic’s energy needs, heating and powering 700,000 homes and businesses and generating over 50% of its electricity. {This is similar to the UK where gas heats around 23 million homes and provides 42% of the nation’s electricity.] Demand for both gas and electricity is increasing – partly because of Ireland’s growing number of data centres which are predicted to consume 23% of all the Irish republic’s electricity by 2030. (See the Irish government’s data at this link).

However, following Ireland’s depletion of its existing gas fields, a decision not to open any more, and a lack of low-carbon replacements, the nation is becoming increasingly dependent on imports. It’s de facto ban on further oil and gas exploration was formalised in 2021 with the Irish government saying then that the move was part of a wider effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Data published by the Irish government supports the findings. A recent report said: “In 2019, 53% of Ireland’s natural gas use was imported from the UK. Following the depletion of the Corrib gas field, Ireland is expected to be dependent on over 80% imports by the mid-2020s and over 90% by 2030.

“Ireland’s economy depends on continued secure supplies of natural gas … With a significant percentage of Ireland’s electricity being generated from gas, there is a critical interdependence between electricity and gas security.”

The OEUK report will say that natural gas flows to Ireland have “more than doubled since 2017”, as domestic Irish supplies have fallen. “The country is considering how to ensure energy security in this context, including the development of LNG imports as a part of its supply portfolio.”
[Note: Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is produced by compressing natural gas into a liquid for shipping to customers who turn it back into  gas. These energy-intensive processes mean LNG production generates 3x more CO2 than producing piped gas.]

The OEUK report comes as some environmental groups call for an end to further oil and gas exploration in UK waters. OEUK’s report warns that such a move risks making the UK ever more dependent on imports – as has happened in Ireland.

The repercussions could go further. The 2022 energy crises have seen the UK playing an increasingly important role in European energy security. Its gas networks provided 4 billion cubic metres of gas to Ireland in 2022 – the highest since 2015. The UK also sent 19 billion cubic metres of gas to continental Europe – almost double the previous record. The increase in gas sent to Europe was provided by LNG shipments to the UK and is a role it would have been unable to play without its own domestic resources as the imported supplies would have been needed by UK consumers.

Ross Dornan, OEUK’s markets intelligence manager, author of the forthcoming report, said: “Following the Republic of Ireland’s ban on new oil and gas licensing, its government’s own estimates suggest that by 2030 Ireland could be 90% reliant on gas imports.

“The Irish government was acting with good intentions. It imposed this ban to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But such bans can only reduce emissions if they are coupled with reductions in gas demand and consumption. Otherwise, you risk making your country ever more reliant on imports. Gas imported from abroad usually generates more emissions because of the energy used to liquefy it, transport it and then turn it back into a gas. So there is no real benefit for the planet if you replace domestic supplies with imports.

Aberdeen , Scotland, Sunday, 19 February 2023 OEUK Staff Photos Picture by Michal Wachucik/Abermedia – Commissioned by The Sun Glasgow

“The events in Ireland and its growing dependence on imports highlight the dangers of applying similar bans to the UK’s production of oil and gas from the North Sea, Irish Sea and Atlantic. The UK is a vital strategic partner to Ireland and its European neighbours, helping maintain energy supplies in their time of need. We hope they would do the same for us. It would be dangerous to disrupt these mutually supportive networks.

“The UK has 23 million homes heated by gas boilers, 32 million vehicles running on petrol or diesel and gets 40% of its power from power stations that burn gas. If we want to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, we need to replace that infrastructure with low carbon alternatives – not cut off our own supplies.”

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