Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 30, to delete "other than sections 18 and 19" and substitute "other than sections 18, 19, 20 and 21".
I confirm that I am in the Leinster House complex. I thank the committee for the work it did on this Bill at pre-legislative stage, which was more extensive than any previous pre-legislative process and was effectively akin to Committee Stage, given that there were so many amendments in written draft form rather than just the heads of a Bill. The amendments, most of which were incorporated in a revised draft of the Bill, that the committee proposed were beneficial in strengthening the Bill. The work that the committee did was exemplary in that regard and I thank its members.
The first of my four amendments reflects a commitment in the programme for Government to end the issuing of new licences for exploration and extraction of gas. A similar decision was taken by the previous Government in 2019 in respect of oil exploration and extraction. My Department is no longer accepting new applications for exploration licences for either natural gas or oil. The amendment in this Bill will implement that decision.
Subsection (1) in amendment No. 230 repeals the Minister's power to grant petroleum prospecting licences, licensing options, exploration licences, lease undertakings and petroleum leases under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, subject to certain saving provisions to which I will refer shortly. This subsection is drafted to ensure that the Minister's power to revoke licensing options and lease undertakings is maintained.
Subsections (2) to (6) provide for the limited situations in which further authorisations may be granted. Existing authorisations will not be affected by the repeal of the provisions of the 1960 Act, in that they will continue to be able to apply to progress through the licensing stages. This is necessary to allow existing authorisations, some of which have been in place for more than ten years, to reach a natural conclusion in accordance with their existing terms and conditions, given that the State and the companies involved entered into those agreements in good faith.
We have already seen the effect of recent changes in policy. At the end of September 2019, shortly after the then Taoiseach's announcement that new exploration for oil would end, there were 55 authorisations under regulation. In the latest quarterly acreage report published by my Department, which set out the position at the end of March 2021, there were only 29. I expect this number to decline further as authorisations expire or are relinquished, with no new authorisations for exploration and extraction replacing them.
The saving provisions also provide for petroleum prospecting licences, PPLs, to be granted to the holders of other authorisations. We are doing this because, as in the case of licensing options and lease undertakings, the licensing terms require the holders of those authorisations to also hold a PPL. Holders of exploration licences and petroleum leases may also require a PPL in certain special circumstances where it may be necessary for the authorisation holder to acquire data outside the boundary of its authorised area in order to inform fully any work directly relevant within its authorisation. In the case of a petroleum leaseholder, it is not uncommon during the lifetime of a producing field for new seismic data to be acquired for purposes that include monitoring changes to the field through time as a result of production. However, it is important to note that holding a PPL does not entitle the licensee to any further petroleum authorisation. It is also important to remember that any application for follow-on authorisation or applications to conduct activity in the Irish offshore under existing authorisations will remain subject to ministerial consent and will continue to be required to meet environmental, technical and financial standards.
These amendments will ensure that no petroleum authorisations for new exploration can be granted while allowing existing authorisations to apply to progress, with the applications remaining subject to assessment by my Department.