Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 9 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Hydraulic Fracturing Exploration: Discussion
I welcome members and viewers who might be watching proceedings on Oireachtas television to the eighth public session of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. We have received apologies from Deputy Martin Heydon.
On behalf of the committee I extend a warm welcome to Mr. John McElligott and Mr. Eddie Mitchell from Safety Before LNG; Ms Julia Walsh from Frack Action; Dr. Paul Deane from the MaREI Centre; Professor Barry McMullin, Dublin City University; and Professor Robert W. Howarth, who is joining us via video call from Cornell University in New York.
I wish to advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome Professor Robert Howarth, who is joining us via conference video call this afternoon. I invite him to make his opening statement.
Professor Robert Howarth:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the committee remotely. I am sorry I cannot be there in person. I am an earth systems scientist with a PhD awarded jointly by MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I am the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University in New York State. I have been a tenured professor at Cornell since 1985 and I have conducted research and taught on climate change since 1980.
I am an expert on the global methane cycle, on the role of methane as a driver of global climate change and on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. I am the lead author of the first ever peer-reviewed analysis of methane emissions from shale-gas development from fracking and I have published ten additional papers on this topic in the past eight years since my original paper was published in 2011. My research on methane and shale gas is cited more in the peer-reviewed literature than that of any other research scientist, with more than 2,700 citations. I have given hundreds of presentations on shale gas and climate change, including a briefing to senior staff in the White House.
Shale gas is a form of natural gas obtained from shale rock using high-volume hydraulic fracturing and high-precision directional drilling. These technologies have only been used by industry in the past 15 years. Virtually all of the shale gas ever produced has been produced in this century, largely in the past decade and almost entirely in North America. Two thirds of the increase in production of all natural gas over the past decade globally has been shale gas development in the United States. Natural gas production in the United States is now dominated by shale gas. If Ireland were to import liquefied natural gas from the United States, it would largely be shale gas.
Methane is the major component of natural gas, including shale gas. Methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas, more than 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Of the current global warming we have experienced in the past decade or two, methane contributes approximately 1 watt per square metre compared to 1.7 watts per square metre for carbon dioxide. It is important to note that the Earth's climate system responds more quickly to methane than to carbon dioxide and, therefore, reducing emissions of methane is critical to reaching the United Nations COP21 target of keeping the planet well below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial baseline. We simply cannot do that with CO2emissions alone. If we do not reduce methane emissions, the Earth will shoot through the 2°C mark within the next 20 to 30 years, with devastating consequences.
Unfortunately, society has not so far acted to reduce methane emissions. Rather, methane in the atmosphere has been increasing rapidly over the past decade. My latest research, published in the journal Biogeosciencesthis summer, demonstrates that shale gas development in North America is the single largest driver of this increase in global methane. Shale gas in the US accounts for one third of the increase in all global emissions from all sources.
In the US, approximately 3.5% of the shale gas that is developed is emitted to the atmosphere as unburned methane due to leaks all along the chain from wells to the final consumer and purposeful emissions as the gas is processed, stored and transported. On account of these methane emissions, the use of shale gas in the United States has an even greater negative impact on the climate than coal, when we consider methane on the timescale of 20 years after it is emitted.
LNG imported to Ireland from the United States would have an even greater greenhouse gas footprint. To liquefy and transport the gas requires a substantial volume of energy. To import 1 cu. m of gas as LNG requires the production of 1.2 cu. m of gas with 0.2 cu. m of that gas burned to provide the energy for liquefication, etc. With that we increase the CO2emissions as well as methane emissions and, therefore, I estimate the use of shale gas imported as LNG to Ireland would create greenhouse gas emissions of 156g of CO2equivalents per megajoule, or a footprint that is 40% greater than that of coal. My written testimony provides a figure that demonstrates this. This is a minimum estimate, since it does not include the additional methane emissions associated with storing and transporting the LNG. Few if any data are available on methane emissions during transport but they could be substantial.
From the standpoint of climate change, LNG is a poor fuel choice, worse than using shale gas in the US. I urge Ireland to prohibit the importation of fracked shale gas from the US. I thank the committee for the opportunity to contribute remotely today.
Ms Julia Walsh:
I am the founder and campaign director of Frack Action, a small non-governmental organisation, NGO, based in New York State, where I also live. I started Frack Action in 2010 because of the direct threat that fracking posed to my community. For five years, we worked with other grassroots organisations and NGOs to educate the public and our elected officials about the harm that fracking was inflicting on our neighbours in Pennsylvania. From New York, we were witnessing in real time a dramatic increase of pollution and sickness for people and the environment in the areas where fracking was taking place. Our campaigners worked with health professionals, who were studying the impacts that fracking was having throughout the US. Now the vast majority of more than 1,500 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that drilling and fracking cause serious risks and harm to public health and the environment. In 2015, our governor, Andrew Cuomo, listened to the science and banned fracking based on the risks to public health and the environment. Shortly thereafter, my organisation was invited to come here by local campaigners to share the reports on the impacts of fracking by the New York State Departments of Public Health and Environmental Conservation with the public, press and elected officials.
As a third generation Irish-American, I was relieved when my ancestral homeland banned fracking in 2017, thus protecting the people, water, air, land, animals and climate. That courageous action made Ireland an international leader on this issue, although that is still under threat, with potential fracking licences being granted in the North. I have been invited back by local campaigners to address the potential use of US fracked gas in Ireland and specifically the proposed Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, import terminal.
New York has had its own experience with LNG terminals. In 2015 the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, rejected the permit for the Port Ambrose LNG terminal and instead granted licences for offshore wind energy projects in that area. He said: “My administration carefully reviewed this project from all angles, and we have determined that the security and economic risks far outweigh any potential benefits.” The state of New York has also denied permission for several massive fracked gas pipelines from Pennsylvania to run through New York because of the dangers they pose to water, rivers, streams and wetlands, as well as the climate. This is important because New York’s decision to deny permits for fracking pipelines is a factor in the decision the committee faces today. Quite simply, there is a glut of fracked gas in Pennsylvania that cannot be brought to market. In financial terms, this gas is referred to as a "stranded asset".
The Taoiseach stated on 2 October during Taoiseach’s Questions that the gas for the Shannon LNG terminal was not necessarily fracked gas. Given what we know, this is a misleading statement. According to New Fortress Energy’s filing at the US Securities and Exchange Commission on 9 November 2018, two thirds of marketed gas production in the United States is from fracking. It also states the gas intended for the Shannon LNG terminal is fracked gas from Pennsylvania. On page 9 it states: “We are an integrated gas-to-power company that seeks to use “stranded” natural gas to satisfy the world’s large and growing power needs”. It details, on pages 9 and 14, how it is planning to build two plants to liquefy 3 million to 4 million gallons of fracked gas per day for export from Pennsylvania, with the potential to build more liquefier plants, with a 15-year contract to buy the fracked gas. One liquefier plant that New Fortress Energy is building is in Bradford County, one of the most heavily fracked counties in Pennsylvania where many residents are suffering from health ailments as a result. The liquefied natural gas will be transported by truck from Bradford County to a proposed LNG export terminal in Gibbstown, Pennsylvania, where there is enormous local opposition. It is quite clear that it will be fracked gas.
As many people and Deputies have stated, getting fracked gas from the United States when there is law banning fracking in Ireland reeks of hypocrisy. If Ireland imports fracked gas at the Shannon LNG terminal, it will be locking itself into more than a decade of complicity in harming the people and children of Pennsylvania. In recent months the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettehas investigated and found at least 67 diagnoses of cancers, some of which are extremely rare, in children in just four rural, heavily fracked counties of the state. Health professionals are alarmed by this. As I previously stated, there are now more 1,500 scientific studies and reports in the United States which overwhelmingly show the harm caused by fracking. It includes disastrous impacts on the climate caused by the release of methane. As Professor Howarth stated, combined with the processes of fracking and the transport and distribution of LNG, methane leakages make fracked gas considerably worse for the climate than coal.
As we, in the United States, work to protect public health and the safety of Americans by having fracking banned nationally, I ask the committee, Members of the Dáil and the public to, please, continue speaking out and working together to stop this project from gaining the final permits and to pass a law banning the use of all US fracked gas in Ireland. Our health and well-being are at stake. That is why I am here.
Dr. Paul Deane:
I thank the joint committee for inviting us to present our research. MaREI is a Science Foundation Ireland centre for energy, climate and the marine, based in UCC. Analysis we undertook a number of years ago using our detailed European gas and electricity model examined the European energy system from a security of supply perspective. We examined the effect a major supply interruption from Russia would have on Europe. We found that Ireland could sustain an interruption period of up to ten months without the need for LNG infrastructure. Ireland's gas system is strongly linked with the UK gas network. To date in 2019 LNG imports, primarily from Qatar, Russia and Algeria which supply gas from conventional sources rather than fracking, have met approximately one fifth of the United Kingdom's full gas demand. LNG imports of fracked gas from the United States have met approximately 1% of full UK gas demand to date in 2019. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine how many fracked gas molecules come into Ireland via the United Kingdom, just as it is impossible to determine how many electrons entering Ireland's power system from the United Kingdom derive from nuclear power generation.
Natural gas is used for electricity generation and heating in Ireland and meets one third of our energy needs. Analysis undertaken with colleagues in Europe has found that the introduction of the Celtic interconnector from Ireland to France will further reduce Ireland's need for natural gas, cutting the volume of natural gas used by approximately 7%. Analysis undertaken with colleagues in Europe examined 150 future visions of the full European electricity system. We have found that, while demand for natural gas will reduce slightly in Europe, it provides an important backbone for the reliable and secure delivery of electricity, both in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.
Indigenous natural gas production contributes to our energy security, but we do not know what the full implications will be of using indigenous gas, rather than imported gas or oil, from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective. Using global average figures, we estimate the indirect greenhouse gas emissions from Ireland's gas imports, those associated with extraction and transportation, at approximately 1 million tonnes for 2017. The comparable figure for oil is 2.7 million tonnes.
Ireland has the potential to increase security of supply and produce clean renewable gas. This will enhance our energy security and reduce emissions. Colleagues in MaREI have demonstrated that this can meet strict new EU sustainability criteria when used for renewable transport. The SEAI has also demonstrated that gas from animal manure, food waste and grass could provide up to one quarter of Ireland's gas needs, cutting emissions by 2 million tonnes and creating 3,000 permanent jobs.
As members will be aware, energy poverty is a significant issue in Ireland and across Europe. Measures to address it will also address issues of security of supply and reduce Ireland's reliance on imported fossil fuels. The gas demand of a typical Irish home, built in 2005 with a gas boiler, will reduce by one half if thermally insulated and upgraded to today's A-rated standard.
MaREI's analysis of Ireland's energy security shows that, while its energy security was decreasing prior to 2017, it was primarily due to a decrease in the security of supply of imported fuels. Most imported fuels come from the United Kingdom, but it is increasingly importing more oil and gas and the security of our primary energy supply has been declining. Ireland's infrastructural and demand security is increasing, but this has not been sufficient to offset the decrease in fuel supply and security. Looking ahead, diversification of fuel types and fuel suppliers and increasing the production of renewable energy will increase Ireland's energy security. MaREI's analysis of future low carbon scenarios shows an increasing trend in energy security as energy efficiency and indigenous renewable energy production grows over time, thereby reducing our dependency on imported energy.
MaREI produced Ireland's first low carbon energy roadmap in 2013. It initially focused on the challenges in meeting an 80% reduction and then a 95% reduction in CO2 relative to levels in 1990. This analysis informed decisions as climate action legislation passed through its different stages. MaREI also recently looked at emissions reductions scenarios that go well beyond the current national ambition of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions. The paper is attached as an appendix to our official submission.
Professor Barry McMullin:
I thank the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to contribute to its deliberations on this important topic. As I have made a written submission, I will just try to pick out its key highlights. I also express my personal appreciation for Professor Howarth's authoritative presentation. I cannot compete with his expertise, on methane in particular. I will briefly discuss the overall context of climate action, the general role of natural gas in the energy system and the specific question of the importation of liquefied natural gas.
The first questions are how urgent climate action is and what pathways are required to deal with it. The best scientific understanding is that to hold the long-term global temperature rise to a specified level, the total cumulative release of carbon dioxide, in particular, must be capped. Beyond that, we need to be at net-zero carbon dioxide emissions to stabilise the carbon dioxide concentration. This means that there is a finite global CO2budget for further emissions of CO2. The question then arises of who gets to emit it?
In recent work at DCU, in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin, we have attempted to assess the equitable share of the remaining global carbon dioxide budget that is available to Ireland, aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. This yields a so-called national carbon dioxide quota. We arrived at a prudent, minimally equitable, Paris Agreement-aligned national quota of just under 400 megatonnes of carbon dioxide from 2015. Given that we emit approximately 40 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, this gives us a period of about ten years. In other words, our quota will be exhausted around the middle of the next decade, in 2024 or so. Climate action consistent with this quota will require the achievement of cumulative net-zero carbon dioxide emissions from 2025 onwards. This should be contrasted with even the most ambitious mitigation action envisaged in the 2019 climate action plan which targets net-zero carbon dioxide emissions no earlier than 2050 and possibly significantly later. The large discrepancy between these measures of the urgency of climate action may be accounted for by a variety of factors which I mention in my written submission. While there is scope for some debate over exactly how severe the challenge is, it is clear that for relatively wealthy nations with high per capitaCO2emissions such as Ireland, net-zero annual CO2emissions must be achieved much earlier than 2050 if the temperature and equity objectives of the Paris Agreement are to be respected. Therefore, the talk of 2050 as being the timescale we have available is not compatible with the objectives to which we have signed up in the Paris Agreement if we are to be equitable in delivering climate actions.
Natural gas plays a central role in the energy system. It is frequently asserted that natural gas has significantly lower CO2emissions intensity than other fossil fuels and that it can, therefore, usefully function as a "bridge" or "transitional" fuel in overall energy system decarbonisation. In the case of Ireland, it has been argued on this basis that, even under plans for deep decarbonisation, natural gas can and should continue to be used at significant scale, at least until 2050 and perhaps beyond, and that, even with the most rapid possible roll-out of wind and solar electricity generation capacity, natural gas will still be "essential" as a "fuel of last resort" to cover periods when these intermittent sources of energy are not available. However, there are two key difficulties with this approach. First, it assumes a relatively late net-zero CO2emmissions date of 2050 or beyond which, as I have just mentioned, is not compatible with our collective goals. Second, the assessment of lower CO2emissions intensity is strictly correct only at the point of combustion. When the natural gas is burned, one gets more energy for a given amount of CO2emissions at that point. If "upstream" emissions in extraction, processing and transport are accounted for, the value of a switch to natural gas is much more complex to assess. As Professor Howarth has discussed, particularly in the case of fracking but also for natural gas generally, any release of methane contributes disproportionately to the climate impact over and above the carbon dioxide on combustion. Given that such releases of methane are a specific attribute of natural gas use, in particular, a "substitution" of other fossil fuels by natural gas does not necessarily yield nearly the degree of climate mitigation that is claimed on the narrow basis of combustion emissions only. Furthermore, carbon capture and storage, typically cited as a mechanism that would allow much longer term combustion of natural gas, only happen at the point of combustion. They do nothing whatsoever to mitigate upstream emissions of methane or carbon dioxide. As to whether the use of natural gas is "essential" to reliable electricity generation, even under conditions of large-scale deployment of wind and solar energy generation, there are, in fact, multiple technologically feasible alternatives, but it would require another full session to unpack them in detail.
Regarding LNG, the general case for natural gas as a transitional lower intensity fossil fuel is relatively weak, but in the specific case of liquefied natural gas, it is undermined by two further critical factors. First, as Professor Howarth has mentioned, liquefaction and liquefied transport are in themselves energy intensive processes which require continuous refrigeration at minus162°C, which reduces the net energy yield and thus generally increases the emissions intensity compared with conventional, purely gaseous supply chains. This is true of conventional natural gas, as well as of fracked natural gas. Second, it is widely understood, as we have heard, that the primary source of LNG for importation to Ireland is likely to be gas extracted by way of fracking. There are very strong indications that such extraction is significantly more vulnerable to methane release than even conventional extraction. Again, it must be emphasised that such upstream emissions cannot be mitigated in any way by downstream interventions such as carbon capture and storage.
Like all industrialised countries, Ireland faces an acute challenge in rapidly decarbonising its energy system. Their scale and urgency are not widely appreciated and there are no simple or easy solutions. It appears clear, however, that deployment and the potential lock-in of additional fossil fuel infrastructure of any sort will not help and will most likely hinder an effective response.
I commend the joint committee on its careful and reflective deliberations. I will be happy to elaborate further on any of the points raised.
Mr. Eddie Mitchell:
As a Leitrim person, I thank the joint committee for its work in scrutinising the fracking ban. We are very aware in County Leitrim that we live in a gas basin. Our neighbours in County Fermanagh are again being subject to a licence application that may lead to fracking.
Prior to 2011, silent policy on fracking allowed the Government to avoid high level assessments of the cumulative impacts of exploiting shale gas. Unfortunately, this is happening again with fracked gas imports. The health of people who warned us about the harms of fracking in North America is at risk if we create a demand for fracked gas here. From 2017 on, we knew that the United States planned to export its gas and take a 15% stake in the global LNG market. It was talking about lending Europe its gas until we got over our fear of fracking. Knowing this and seeing renewed interest in the Shannon LNG proposal, we became concerned and began engaging with people in counties Kerry and Clare. President Juncker and President Trump announced a deal to bring what the latter called "freedom gas" to Europe in July 2018.
The public is becoming aware of this plan to import fracked gas into Ireland through the Shannon Estuary and Cork Harbour, mostly because of awareness-raising by environmental groups. Anytime we alerted the Department to our concerns about fracked gas imports, we were told that the origin of the gas was a matter for the operators involved. The Government would not acknowledge that the proposals to bring LNG into Ireland would introduce fracked gas into the energy mix here. The planned Shannon LNG terminal alone has the capacity to satisfy half the current Irish demand for gas.
People are entitled to have a say in whether fracked gas is introduced into the energy mix. This is acknowledged in the Lisbon treaty, in which we retained our right to determine choices between different energy sources. No project can remain on the LNG list without the permission of the member state in which it is being constructed. Last Friday we believe the Minister, Deputy Bruton, approved Shannon LNG's inclusion in the draft projects of common interest, PCI, list. This decision sets the framework for developing consent. The decision was taken without discussion of public policy on fracked gas in the Irish energy mix. Major energy infrastructure needs public support. To be successful, a project needs a social licence. Prioritising trade over the climate through silent policy is not prudent and needs to be stopped.
Mr. John McElligott:
It is against the backdrop of Mr. Mitchell and I interacting with the European Commission on the PCI issue directly, as members of civil society, that we speak to the joint committee about the matter.
Having an LNG terminal on the Shannon Estuary would be dangerous to people within a 3 mile radius, will sterilise the Shannon Estuary for future development owing to the exclusion zones that would be required around LNG tankers and be polluting. In our eyes, having fracked gas in the energy mix is not acceptable owing to the climate and health issues associated with fracking. LNG terminals are needed in order to import fracked gas into Europe from the USA on a massive scale. We think the PCI approval process is really only motivated by the trade agreement between the United States and the European Union to flood Europe with US fracked gas over any climate consideration.
Project of common interest, PCI, status is effectively a declaration that it is in the national interest to plan, fund and permit the project. Through our years of campaigning, we have maintained that we need proof that the project is genuinely in the national interest but that is still not forthcoming. PCI status also means that the hands of the committee are tied and that we are locked into the fracked gas option before the committee can assess and choose from the best reasonable energy alternatives for the country. This is neither legal nor right. We have discovered that the European Commission only assesses gas projects under the three obligatory criteria of market integration, competition and security of supply. However, by law it must also assess each gas project under a fourth criteria, namely, sustainability. It is illegal not to so do. The PCI regulation defines sustainability as "the contribution of a project to reduce emissions ... taking into account expected changes in climatic conditions". The Minister, Deputy Bruton, seemed to accept he had knowledge of this in the Dáil last Thursday evening when he stated:
I have instructed my officials to ask the European Commission whether the implications of importing LNG, both conventionally and unconventionally extracted, into the European Union have been examined as to the sustainable, secure and competitive energy policy. If not, we have asked that such an examination should be undertaken.
Knowing this, how could he risk approving the project and it going on the PCI list, if that is what he did? We still do not know exactly what was decided in Brussels last Friday because the decision-making is going on in secret, behind closed doors and with no public consultation or oversight. The Agency for the Cooperation of European Regulators, ACER, the opinion of which the Commission must take on board, declared a few weeks ago that the European Commission was not properly considering the merits of the projects in terms of potential contribution to sustainability.
We are in a rules-based process. It would be unacceptable to any right-minded person for the Government to endorse a contravention of EU laws to import US fracked gas into Europe.
Before we begin questions, I remind members that the speaking slots have been adjusted. A round 1 slot is 15 minutes per party, while in round 2 there will be five minutes per person or, if there is more than one party representative present, the party will get a maximum of ten minutes. We will adhere to strict speaking times.
I contacted the clerk and was instructed that this is the appropriate time to raise the fact that at 4.15 p.m. I must move several amendments in the Seanad. I may discuss with colleagues whether I can make my contribution before then.
I wish to formally express my disappointment that the Department is not represented at the meeting. It is shocking. It is very unusual that no member of the Department responsible for this policy is here to answer questions. I acknowledge that the Department provided a written submission which all members received today, but it is highly unusual and regrettable that there is no representative present.
Due to the short notice involved - in fairness, the request came in last Thursday for the meeting today - the departmental officials responsible for this area are not available to appear. They have provided a written submission. The committee may invite them to appear at a future meeting.
I agree with the point made by Deputy Bríd Smith, as I stated privately to the Chair before the meeting started. There is a pattern of behaviour. The Department did not give us the report we needed to do our work on the previous issue we discussed. There was much discussion of members of the climate action committee being able to hold Departments to account, but if Departments are not making themselves available, we cannot do so. In spite of the short notice for the meeting and the fact that, according to the Department, the officials with experience in this area are out of the country, there are many others in the Department who could have appeared to deal with this issue. I do not accept that only a limited number of people in the Department, all of whom happen to be out of the country, have a level of competency on the issue such that they could appear before the committee. If the committee is to work, we need Departments to work with us. There has been a pattern of that not happening recently.
I wish to share time with Deputy Brassil, who represents the constituency in question. I agree with colleagues that we need to get a departmental overview. Insofar as we can, we must take the heat out of this debate and discuss it on the science of the matter. It would be useful for the Minister to appear in light of these discussions to talk through the matter with the committee.
For me, there are two issues. First, there is the issue of energy security. It is well accepted, based on our decisions to date, that we do not like fracked gas. We have banned it and there is almost unanimous support for that. We recognise there is a problem with fracked gas. From a climate change perspective, we recognise that emissions from fossil fuels are problematic and are causing a very significant change in our climate and that we need to address that. There are targets in place in that regard. I am taken by what Professor McMullin's comment that he would like us to go further than we have agreed or, in meeting the targets to which we have signed up, he would like us to go further than the Government has. We will have to consider that. As we head in that direction, however, we will still need gas. Everybody recognises that. The issue comes down to energy security. We must be satisfied that we will have an appropriate energy mix, involving other sources as well as gas. Even if we stick to our current trajectory and aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we must consider how the overall importation of gas from the existing interconnectors fits into the overall mix of energy we use. Do we really need an LNG terminal on the west coast, whether it be fracked gas or other gas? Consideration must be given to these issues. The Department could advise us in that regard. I suggest that any analysis be carried out independently.
I attended a briefing of the community in County Kerry. Ms Walsh and several others who are present were also at the meeting. Members are politicians who represent their communities and try to do right by them. We have responsibilities in terms of climate change but we also have responsibilities in respect of the economic security of communities. There is an historic dimension, which must be addressed. I am sure Deputy Brassil will develop that point. People bought into a particular project and, after 15 years of offering it very significant support and investment, they find that there is a very considerable lobby against it. We must try to mollify that situation. I am trying to do so by listening to the various experts.
It is clear that if one were starting today, one would not put an LNG terminal in that location or consider importing fracked gas at all. It is the old story: we are not starting from today. A company is in place, has invested a significant amount of money and has certain permissions and we must address that. We must look at whether it makes sense to continue with that from an energy security point of view. It all ultimately comes down to energy security. I was interested by Dr. Deane's reference to potential insecurity based on a reduction in gas exploration in the North Sea, while recognising there are other interconnectors there. I ask him to comment on that issue with regard to energy security. He seems to have done a considerable amount of work on the matter. I note the Celtic interconnector has received support to take electricity from France and there is potential for more gas to be harvested from the Corrib field without additional infrastructure.
Will Dr. Deane comment on that?
Dr. Paul Deane:
In essence, the question is whether we need LNG. From the detailed modelling we have undertaken in UCC, it is not entirely obvious that LNG infrastructure will be required in Ireland. We have modelled in detail supply interruptions coming from Russia and independently coming from Norway and north Africa. The lights have remained on in Ireland in all our simulations, which points to the fact that LNG infrastructure may not be required within Ireland.
The Irish gas system is relatively secure and resilient. It is worth bearing in mind that in the past four or five years, there has never been a supply interruption of gas coming into Ireland but there have been two supply interruptions on the electricity interconnectors - both Moyne and east-west. We are very lucky to have a resilient gas infrastructure and the recent twinning of the gas pipes coming from Scotland to Ireland has increased that resilience even further.
What helps the lights to remain on in the event of a severe supply interruption from importing states are factors such as the existing LNG infrastructure in Europe. There is abundant capacity for LNG in Europe, in Portugal, Spain and parts of France. Traditionally, Europe has been good at moving gas from the east to the west but in recent years it has improved at moving it from the west to the east, accessing more liquid LNG markets.
Energy storage in the UK also plays an important role in providing resilience in Ireland. Ireland has a long history of collaboration and gas-sharing with the UK that predates any of the impending Brexit issues. In general, the Irish gas system appears to be very resilient in respect of a number of points of supply interruption. As Professor McMullin mentioned, much of our gas is used to provide electricity, while the addition of the electricity interconnector between Ireland and France, which the Deputy mentioned, will further reduce Ireland's need for imported gas.
In Dr. Deane's analysis, he considered the stability of the European market and resilience through diversification by virtue of access to LNG facilities in Portugal and Spain. Is that supply of LNG also from the US or is it from the same sources? I do not mean we should accept it by the back door, given there is an issue if something is built for the sake of it and there will be implications if we are left with it. There is an adequate supply of gas available to meet Ireland's needs, although it comes through a different route.
Ms Julia Walsh:
Not to my knowledge. It is stranded in Pennsylvania, which is why the company has gone to great lengths in its statements to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, to highlight exactly where the gas comes from. In light of developments in Pennsylvania, where my organisation is involved with other organisations, grassroots groups and community members, and of the filing with the SEC, we know exactly where some of the gas comes from, such as Bradford County in Pennsylvania, because the company builds liquefaction plants on that end to export it.
Ms Julia Walsh:
There is some usage through pipelines but there is a glut of gas. The companies and the industry have not had a plan since the beginning, when the industry and practice were exempted from some of our most important public health and environmental laws. We have fought that at a state and community level for the past 15 years. There is a great deal of financial analysis of the industry and of how fracked gas is not a financially viable fuel. Due to how the industry has been allowed to operate in the United States, it has fracked so much that it does not have enough vehicles to get that gas out, in Pennsylvania in particular, and consequently, this company in particular wants to build this terminal. I am just speaking to the specifics of what is at hand, rather than to the entire fracked gas and energy industry, which would fill another meeting of the committee. There are much better experts than me.
Although I am not a member of the committee, I take a great interest in the matter. I suggest that when the committee invites representatives from the Department, it might also invite Gas Networks Ireland, EirGrid and possibly Professor John FitzGerald, who sat on the Irish Energy Research Council and is an independent assessor of our energy needs. The majority of our guests are not in favour of the LNG facility. For balance, I must point to some statements made by what I consider relevant bodies. The Irish Academy of Engineering's report on the security of Ireland's gas supply of July 2018 stated:
Relying on imported gas from Britain for all of Ireland’s gas supply beyond 2030 is not advisable. Alternative sources of supply and supply routes need to be developed. Developing a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal in Ireland would enhance Ireland’s security of gas supply and provide access to the increasingly competitive global LNG market.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in its long-term resilience study conducted by Gas Networks Ireland and EirGrid in 2018, stated:
A sustainable, secure gas supply is crucial for the long-term competitiveness of Ireland’s economy, and is integral to Government energy policy ... Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has the potential to offer a significant security of supply benefit as well as access to a diversified worldwide LNG market.
Finally, the Economic and Social Research Institute, in its liquefied natural gas storage valuation of March 2019, stated:
The research shows that an Irish LNG facility would allow Irish consumers to benefit from highly competitive global LNG markets, thus bringing a reduction in their annual energy bill. Ireland is currently partially dependent on the UK to meet its gas supplies. However, this research shows that an Irish LNG facility can reduce this dependence.
Significant scientific evidence supports the provision of an LNG facility in this country. I would like the committee to be offered such opinions in good time.
Dr. Deane stated it is impossible to tell how many fracked gas molecules are imported from the UK, although there is an LNG facility there. Whether that facility imports from Qatar, Australia or America, in time some fracked gas will be imported into the country. He also stated energy will come from France through the development of a 700 MW interconnector, which will be predominantly produced by nuclear power. There has been a ban on nuclear energy development in this country since 1999. If the argument is that we should not accept fracked gas, should we also refuse to accept energy produced by nuclear power?
I am interested in that opinion.
Dr. Paul Deane:
The Deputy is correct. It is hypocrisy but it is hypocrisy with which we have become comfortable in Europe and Ireland. It is illegal to generate electricity by nuclear means in Ireland and yet we import it. We might not like fracking in Ireland but there is no way of knowing if the origin of oil and gas molecules is Qatar, Russia, Algeria or the United States. It is hypocritical but it is not anything new.
Mr. John McElligott:
That is not directly related to climate but concerns the idea of exclusion zones around tankers. It is a discussion for another day because we are talking about climate now. The statement relates to the development of the Shannon Estuary in the long term. It brings me back to the point I was really trying to make, which is that we all have great ideas for the Shannon Estuary but we need a strategic plan or policy. At an individual level, this might sound great for an individual project, but the issue is if there is no overriding policy to be implemented. There are different actors and interest groups with different takes on matters but this must be assessed in a strategic manner. That is why I return to the idea of the projects of common interest accreditation. In this case, the planning permission has expired and when a new application is made for a floating storage regasification unit, FSRU, it would already be predetermined that it would be in the national interest if it is on the PCI list.
Mr. John McElligott:
When permission was granted in 2008, this project did not have PCI accreditation. A new application is being made and this time when the planning application is scrutinised, there will be a different context. A planning application for the FSRU will be made as a project of common interest with all its consequences. It will need a pipeline and must be put on the ten-year network development plan. It must have access to infrastructure funds and may even have public funding in the end, and not just community funding, although that is yet to be determined. It is setting the framework for future development consent.
I have no problem with that. I welcome all our witnesses. As a starting point we must reduce our emissions and reach our targets under the international agreements we have. We must keep the lights on, as somebody mentioned, but this must be done in a fair and just way. As the debate evolves, we will have clashes such as this involving a project that local people might see as important to the economic sustainability of an area versus national policy on climate action. We had a very good discussion earlier in the audiovisual room that was attended by some members of the local community and local Members.
When we look at projects like this we must consider their viability and whether they are viable to begin with in the context of how policy has evolved and is still evolving. The views of people in local communities are clearly important as well. I found the presentation and written submission from Professor McMullin very helpful. He spoke about the general case for natural gas as a transitional lower intensity fossil fuel, which has already been shown as very weak. He states that the specific case of LNG is undermined by two further critical factors. The first is that liquefied transport is itself an energy intensive process, which reduces the net energy yield. The second factor is that it is widely understood that the primary source of LNG for importation into Ireland is likely to be gas extracted by way of hydraulic fracturing, and there are strong indications that such extraction is significantly more vulnerable to methane release as opposed to conventional extraction.
This project first appeared on the scene in 2006 as a concept and planning was sought in 2008. We have banned fracking in this State since that time for very obvious and justified reasons. Given what Professor McMullin indicated in his written statement and what was said in the presentation, is the project viable?
Professor Barry McMullin:
It depends what is meant by "viable". Professor Howarth is the expert on the role of methane, particularly methane from natural gas extraction through fracking. Since the project was mooted, the science and understanding of the role of methane in general has advanced considerably, which is a significant change. The specific understanding of the emissions for fracking, as compared with conventional natural gas extraction, has advanced considerably over that period. We have a much better understanding now than we had when the project was first mooted that the damage would be much more significant.
We have also seen the International Panel on Climate Change special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C, which demonstrates that the risks of climate change and temperature rise are substantially greater than had previously been understood. In particular, there is a risk of triggering tipping points in this complex global system. I raise this because methane and carbon dioxide do not have exactly the same effects in the dynamics of climate change and global warming. Carbon dioxide primarily dictates the long-term warming and methane in the next couple of decades will strongly affect peak warming, or the peak temperature we get to before we finally manage to stabilise temperatures. That peak temperature is critical in terms of the risks of triggering these potentially irreversible feedback processes that will get out of human control entirely. The methane issue will be brought very starkly into focus over the next two or three decades, so action on methane that is separate from carbon dioxide is critical.
In a meaningful and rational engagement with the urgency of our climate predicament, any project premised primarily on natural gas, but especially fracked natural gas, is definitely not viable from that perspective. Could it be financially viable? As long as these products-----
I will stop the witness there. Anything could be financially viable but this is a private commercial project, first and foremost. My question is, as a commercial private project, is it fighting against science and an evolving policy? The policy here has changed since the project started in that we have banned fracking. Is it possible there will be further policy changes? As the witnesses implied, there is an urgent need to become less dependent on fossil fuels so we can reach emission reduction targets. As a project that could span 30 years or even longer, is the viability of the project fighting science and an evolving policy?
Professor Barry McMullin:
It is absolutely going in the opposite direction to where the dynamic of climate action is going to go, including the political and wider social understanding of the gravity of our position. Fossil fuel in general and particularly fracked natural gas has a very short horizon future now.
Dr. Paul Deane:
With respect to financial feasibility, it must compete with cheaper pipeline imports to Europe and cheaper imports of LNG from outside Europe, particularly from Qatar and Russia. There is financial competition and Irish consumers could access some of that liquidity, and not just by accessing the liquidity through the interconnector to the United Kingdom.
There is also the question of where it sits in the climate science debate.
The role of gas is still an open question. As Professor McMullin stated, it is predicated on different technologies becoming commercially available and coming to market. It is interesting to note that the UK, which is starting to legislate for a net zero society by 2050, foresees the role of natural gas reducing by only 33% in the period to 2050. Natural gas will still play a primary role in energy supply but that is because of these technologies.
Professor Robert Howarth:
Much has changed since 2006 and the committee heard a nice explanation of that. The consequences of climate change are coming into much sharper focus. We are seeing more consequences of stronger storms, more fires, larger droughts and bigger floods.
Also, there was the COP 21 agreement in Paris in 2005 when the nations of the world finally agreed that we need to try to keep the increase in temperature on the planet well below 1.5°C because of the possibility of climate thresholds and tipping points, and certainly well below 2°C. That is a new understanding by nations. We are on a trajectory to break through that 1.5°C ceiling in the timeframe of 15 to 20 years from now, in part driven by methane emissions from oil and gas development.
Regarding the shale gas side of it, as of 2006 there has been virtually no shale gas development anywhere in the world. Half of the shale gas that has ever been produced has been produced in the past five or six years and our scientific understanding has also changed markedly over time. In 2011, we published the first ever analysis of what methane emissions from shale gas might look like. The analysis had to be a little speculative because there were few data on what was then a brand new technology. There are now hundreds of papers on this area and we know those methane emissions are substantial. The science is now dramatically different from when this project was first considered.
I have one final question for our guests. I will put my cards on the table. I think this project is of a different time. Unfortunately, I do not see it as viable. I note there is a strong lobby and an understandably strong view within the local community and among those who live close to the Shannon Estuary who want to see this development. What would the guests say to those communities which are obviously concerned about jobs and the economic importance of the landbank on the Shannon Estuary and the opportunities it provides? People have waited a long time for development. This, in their view, is the only show in town. What advice would our guests give the local community and the local authority on the alternatives and what we would consider to be a just transition?
Mr. Eddie Mitchell:
I would be very angry if I was a member of that community because people have been wasting their time for the past couple of years after we banned fracking. The general public did now know this was fracked gas but plenty of people did. This should have been more transparent. People should have understood that it was fracked gas. An alternative project could have been found for that site by now, something that could have contributed to the community, which needs jobs. People have been wasting that community's time. When one sees the science, Professor Robert Howarth has not been talking about this. We have been looking to Professor Howarth since 2011 when we started looking at fracking. While this information may be new to us in Ireland, officials in the Department and those working in our universities should have been aware of it.
Professor Barry McMullin:
The Deputy raises an important point. I am very sympathetic towards communities everywhere which are disrupted in this way. However, one simply cannot underestimate the scale of new activity that will be necessary to reconstruct an energy system that does not depend on fossil fuels. That is where the opportunities arise. In the case of Ireland, the biggest single opportunity is sourcing offshore wind energy, but also making that wind energy available on a firm dispatchable basis, which means energy storage systems. Long-term energy storage systems will critically revolve around the use of hydrogen, hydrogen storage, supply chains and processing around that. Much work has been done on that area, on which Ireland can lead the world. There is a great opportunity for communities all over Ireland to avail of it.
I thank all of the presenters. Professor Howarth mentioned that only have ten years of research and we are only learning about the impacts of methane. It seems that everything we have learned about the impacts of methane is alarming, particularly that it has a far greater impact than carbon dioxide on global warming. Professor Howarth stated that methane can be 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It makes up more than one third of the increase in watts per square meter in terms of global warming and the climate system responds more quickly to methane than carbon dioxide. I ask Professor Howarth to address that.
Given that we have this new form of seemingly more dangerous energy being supplied into the market, is Professor Howarth concerned that it is acting as a accelerant in respect of climate change and global warming? The requirement for ten year access to the network as part of planning permission for a project of common interest was mentioned. Is it the understanding of our guests that if this project were to go ahead, we would be tied for a decade into continuing to use methane, a fuel whose impacts we have only known for a short period? How could we exit from that requirement if the research and policy continue to evolve? I have asked a scientific question and a related legal question.
Professor Robert Howarth:
On the science question, I understand methane continues to evolve day by day. From the first decade of this century, methane emissions were steady globally. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere were steady. However, over the past decade, methane emissions have been rising very rapidly. Of course, we have had the warmest years ever in the history of human civilisation over this past decade and methane emissions are a definite contributor to that. As for what is driving those methane increases over the past decade, as I stated, my research suggests that shale gas from the United States is responsible for one third of those global increases. There are other things going on as well but as we in the United States understand that more, there will be a lot of pressure to decrease our reliance on shale gas.
The economics of shale gas have never worked. It is a new industry and a new approach, which is built on huge debt. No one in the United States has made any profit from selling this commodity over the past four or five years. They are hoping to hold on in the hope that the price will eventually go up. People, including people in Ireland, should think about what that means if they want to tie their fate to a source of gas in this country.
Here in New York State, our governor signed a law this summer committing us to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 40% within the next ten years. We are committed to doing that and we believe we can do it with renewable energy. If we in New York State can do it, I am sure the people of Ireland can do it.
I agree totally with my colleague that Ireland has potential to develop offshore wind and support that and the related energy storage which will be required to make renewables really work. That is the way I would go.
I might also add that the United States has a limited history of exporting natural gas as liquefied natural gas. This is new for us. In fact, until a few years ago, it was illegal for the oil and gas industry in the United States to export gas because we were worried about our own energy security. That has changed over the past four or five years. We have a glut of gas on the market in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. That is part of the reason that policy has changed. As the shale gas revolution continues to fizzle out, we can expect the oversupply to diminish and I can imagine that the United States will again look out for its own energy security.
It is dangerous to assume that our country will continue to export LNG ten or 20 years into the future. I would be very surprised if that were the case.
Mr. John McElligott:
For a project to be on the PCI process, it has to first be included in the European ten-year network development plan, which is generated by the industry. When it gets that status, it then has to be added to the Irish ten-year network development plan. The wording of the contract states that it must be facilitated as the highest priority. The current ten-year network development plan states that it is a PCI project, but does not say it has the highest priority, which is misleading.
Slovenia and Croatia have put together a PCI for renewable energy sources and have prioritised that as their project of common interest. If Ireland was to develop renewable energy, LNG energy would still have higher priority access to the network. Is that what Mr. McElligott is saying?
I have had a wonderfully lengthy answer, which is good. Based on what Ms Walsh said, I understand that our potential purchase of this LNG is a driver in the development of liquefication plants and a terminal in the United States. It is different from the importation of mixed-source gas. As I understand it, LNG terminals can only be used for LNG, so we are specifically prioritising and investing in the global liquefied national gas infrastructure. That weakens anti-fracking campaigns both locally and globally. I ask Professor McMullin to comment on this as well. Given that the US seems intent on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and its climate targets, are we effectively facilitating actions which, though they are not necessarily climate-related, will accelerate action, both for-----
Professor Barry McMullin:
It is a complicated question. Under the existing United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the Paris Agreement, nations are only responsible for emissions within their own territories. The upstream emissions I mentioned arising from our use of fracked gas would primarily fall under the territory of the United States. We currently delegate responsibility for those emissions to the US. However, if it withdraws from the Paris Agreement, all bets are off and we will have to look at our own responsibility much more closely.
Ms Julia Walsh:
Based on everything I laid out in my presentation and the company's own filings, it is clear that it will be driving fracking, as once the stranded asset is no longer stranded it can incur more fracking. The state of Pennsylvania has been bought off by the oil and gas industry and, at this point, its politicians no longer answer to the pleas of their constituents but rather to this massive industry. I am here to plead on behalf of those people and all others who are impacted by this.
I thank all our guests, particularly Professor Howarth for joining us from New York. We are using up all his time, which is precious but very useful. I direct my first question to Dr. Deane from MaREI. He claims that we do not know how much fracked gas we import, particularly from the UK. However, on 1 October it was reported that fracking has now ended in the UK as the company that engaged in it ceased all activity after triggering a 2.9 magnitude earthquake near Blackpool. We are, therefore, not currently importing fracked gas, unless it is lying in storage somewhere. It will hopefully no longer come into Ireland in the future, which is good news.
There have been major campaigns across Britain to prevent shale gas being used, much like those in County Leitrim and the Shannon Estuary in Clare and Kerry. If we were to import fracked gas from the US, despite the potential contradictions that may exist regarding the importation of nuclear power from France, all we would be doing is compounding one wrong with another. We as a nation now have it within our power to stop this happening. There is no need for it. Does Dr. Deane agree?
I am interested in how his organisation has examined the carbon budget the Paris Agreement has imposed on us. Has MaREI measured how that budget would be impacted if we were to import this liquefied natural fracked gas from North America? Has MaREI calculated how much fracking itself would damage our emissions?
I ask Dr. Deane to also comment on the scientific facts Professors McMullin, Anderson, and Howarth have given us about gas not being a safe or acceptable transition fuel. This is something we have not looked at. Leaving fracking aside, gas as a transitional fuel has not been properly examined by this committee and we need to drill down into that - pardon the pun. Dr. Deane also noted in his presentation that if we were to energetically, enthusiastically and correctly move to renewable fuels, approximately 28% of our electricity needs could be met by implementing the waste reduction referred to by the SEAI. If we were to combine that with a massive investment in offshore wind energy, solar panels, and bog rehydration, in ten or 15 years, both our reliance on gas and the debate about energy security would look completely different. If we were to do what we say we are going to do, the question of gas a transitional fuel to maintain energy security would have a completely different complexion.
Dr. Paul Deane:
I will do my best to answer those questions as succinctly as I can. I refer to UK fracked gas coming into Ireland. The UK has imported a number of LNG shipments from the US in the past number of months, which get diluted in the general gas mix. We import significant volumes of gas from the UK. That is the point I was making. I was not necessarily referring to indigenous UK fracked gas, but gas that comes into the UK via LNG. It is worth noting that LNG imports from the US into the UK are small in comparison with imports from Qatar, Russia, and other countries.
Dr. Paul Deane:
They are larger than that. Professor McMullin mentioned a carbon budget of approximately 400 million megatonnes of carbon dioxide. We suggest about 440 megatonnes. We have looked at a wide range of potential carbon budgets, ranging from 120 million megatonnes to 700 million megatonnes, which would mean reducing our emissions to zero within the next three to 15 years, depending on our level of ambition and transition speed. However, some of those strict scenarios are infeasible and our current level of economic activity could not be maintained while achieving those emission reductions.
We do not examine emissions outside of our territorial emissions. According to the UNFCCC, Ireland is only responsible for the emissions that occur within its territory. Within our science, we do not assess emissions that come from outside Ireland.
I refer to gas as a transitional fuel. Our research shows a number of clear pathways for the future, including those of low regret and least regret. These would require massive energy efficiency, behavioural change and significant deployment of renewable and variable renewable resources. It must be borne in mind that we are starting from a point where 5% of all our energy comes from wind, which is double the global average. However, going from 5% to 80% or 90% in such a short a period would result in logistical issues and turnover challenges. Ireland needs to massively increase the role of variable renewables, but doing that before 2050 will be very difficult. That is where the role of gas as a transitional fuel comes in. The gas itself must be linked to a technology such as hydrogen production, as Professor McMullin mentioned, which is what the UK is looking at for its 2050 strategy. It seems unusual but it will use natural gas to produce hydrogen, break apart the natural gas molecules, use the hydrogen, and store the gas back in the ground. This technology has not yet been commercially tested on a large scale, but neither has 100% deployment of widescale variable renewables.
In Ireland, a low-regrets or no-regrets policy will mean massive deployment of energy efficiency and variable renewables and greater interconnection. That will get us so far. It will probably get us to approximately 70%. If we are to go beyond that, we have to examine some trickier choices. For example, we will have to look at where we get the hydrogen from and how we provide back-up to ensure the electricity system is resilient and reliable on days when there is not enough weather over Norway.
I ask Professor McMullin and Professor Howarth to comment on what Dr. Deane said. I am not convinced when I hear it is not possible to implement these measures because of economic constraints. We hear in this debate all the time that market integration, competition and security of supply are prioritised ahead of the needs of the environment, biodiversity and what the children of the planet are screaming at us to do something about.
Sorry, I have another question to put to Professor McMullin and Professor Howarth on this topic. Will they describe the climate mitigation impact of reducing methane emissions? They have increased, but what would be the effect of bringing them right back down? If all countries were to refuse to take fracked gas from the US, how much good would it do in terms of climate mitigation? How quickly could this be done?
Professor Barry McMullin:
The evidence that has been given by Dr. Deane is based on two premises, the first of which is that we can take all the time up to 2050 to reach the net zero target and the second of which is that we can remove from ourselves all responsibility for upstream emissions. He will agree that both of those positions are contentious. It would be good for the committee to try to explore the value judgments in respect of prudence and intergenerational justice, etc., that come into decision-making in this context. The Deputy also asked about the potential impact of reducing methane emissions rapidly. The big win from such a reduction would be that it would buy us more time. Methane is faster acting, which means that an effective reduction in methane emissions in the short term would buy us some desperately needed time to do this complete reconstruction of our energy system.
Professor Robert Howarth:
I agree with my colleague. Reduced methane emissions can slow the rate of global warming more quickly than reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, where there is a lag of several decades due to uptake and release by the oceans. If we are serious about trying to minimise the risk of major thresholds in the climate system and irreversible runaway global warming, we need to try to keep increase well below 2°C. We do not have until 2050 to do that. We need to start moving that way now. It absolutely requires reducing methane emissions. I do not buy the idea of natural gas as a bridge or transitional fuel at all.
On the question of whether we can move quickly enough on renewables, I think we must try to do so. There are places on the earth where the grid is based more on renewables than non-renewables. Scotland and Denmark are examples of places where this has been achieved. I am sure Ireland can do likewise. There are challenges, but as people of the world we must take those challenges on if the very devastating effects of climate change are to be avoided.
I will go back to the question of thinking forward to 2050. I would like to look at the amendment included in Dr. Deane's paper. I refer to point 12 on the need to be more ambitious. I think we all agree that rather than aiming for an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, we need to be more ambitious. Complete decarbonisation will be needed sooner than 2050. There is political consensus from the Taoiseach down that if we are to adhere to the Paris Agreement, targets like the 80% target are now out of date. Am I correct that Dr. Deane's paper assumes that if we are to be more ambitious to comply with the Paris Agreement, there will be no use of gas - certainly not in power generation - within two or three decades? If gas is to be used, it will have to be accompanied by carbon capture and storage, CCS, capabilities. The carbon dioxide that comes from the use of gas would be stored. Is that a fair summary?
Dr. Paul Deane:
It probably is. The role of natural gas as a fuel within our analysis to 2050 is predicated on technologies for capturing the carbon dioxide from the fuel and putting it back in the ground, either for the production of hydrogen or for the production of electricity. I agree with what the Deputy said about the net zero target. The European Commission is proposing a net zero target for 2050. The UK is legislating for a net zero target for 2050. I certainly think Ireland needs to head in that direction of travel.
The UK Labour Party said that if it gets into government, it will seek to achieve the net zero target by 2030. I mention that as an example of how people are upping the ante in this regard. I have referred to the application of CCS. I understand a floating LNG terminal is now being considered. The idea might be to attach it to a combined cycle gas plant. I assume it would be argued that this would be CCS-compatible. Is that a fair assumption?
Dr. Paul Deane:
That would be one of the options. According to our analysis, the need for LNG infrastructure in Ireland, from a security of supply perspective, is not entirely clear. That could be coupled to multiple technologies. For example, the UK will be looking to pipeline imports for the production of hydrogen in 2050.
I agree with Dr. Deane. In the absence of certain people, including officials from the Department, he is the closest thing I can get to someone against whom I might be able to argue. I say that on the basis of some of the analysis he has done. I agree with his analysis that this infrastructure is not needed. I would like to debunk the alternative argument, which is that CCS can be used to mitigate some of the climate impacts of this infrastructure. I understand that if such an approach is taken, an appropriate CCS facility will be near the landing point for the gas, or certainly near the power station.
Dr. Paul Deane:
That is correct, in the absence of piping or shipping that carbon dioxide. Explorations are taking place. For example, research that is taking place in Europe at the moment is looking at the piping and shipping of carbon dioxide to places like Norway, where it would be put into geological storage. That option is being considered.
My recollection is that when we were examining this issue approximately ten years ago, the Department carried out a detailed geological survey of all the areas around the Shannon Estuary. We drew a blank. There is no suitable carbon storage site anywhere close to the Shannon Estuary. Is that a further reason this does not make sense from an economic perspective in this estuary?
I am talking about looking for an appropriate place to store the carbon dioxide underground in the event of CCS being used. We would have to use an exhausted gas field or a salt deposit. No such geological formations exist close to the Shannon Estuary.
That would result in an argument about the use of LNG in Cork. I would be opposed to that as well. I was interested in the analysis that in the event of a gas shut-off from Norway, Russia or Algeria, we would have a ten-month security window. Was an analysis conducted on our own gas interconnectors with the UK? It has been proposed that reverse gas flows on the Moffat interconnector could be included as a European PCI. It was assumed that it would be a one-way interconnector.
I understand the LNG terminal originally died a death because it did not make economic sense. The grid cost associated with the terminal made it uneconomic. I do not know whether this has been analysed. Perhaps Professor Howarth might have an analysis he can present in this respect. My understanding is that consideration is being given to the application of a new floating terminal, rather than a fixed LNG terminal. I read in the newspapers that it is possible that the grid cost may not now apply. I do not know how that could be the case. I do not know whether the economics of the project depend on the Moffat interconnector being revised to operate as a reverse-flow terminal. The Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators said that the reverse-flow proposal shows no economic sense.
A cost-benefit analysis has not been presented to support that reverse-flow facility. I am sorry if I am getting very technical but we should be careful in that regard. People on all sides may believe that this is a sure-fire economic project but all my analysis over the years would indicate that it is dead in the water and does not make sense economically unless the grid cost is removed or the Moffat interconnector is changed in some way to make it viable. Has the MaREI Centre carried out an analysis on that in its modelling of the interconnectors?
Professor Barry McMullin:
The economic viability of that facility seems to have evolved to focus on coupling it with a power station nearby and new, additional data centre-type load. It is all about a guaranteed market for what would be low-price gas from fracked gas in the United States, exclusive of the externalities of that.
Professor Barry McMullin:
First, they can do CCS. It is just more expensive. It is not a great location for CCS but they could do it. Second, as long as the price in the emissions trading system, ETS, remains low, which, relatively speaking, is still the case, the penalty for not following the ETS route, which is the only way of enforcing that penalty to make CCS happen in the current policy framework, it will not impact on them excessively.
I thank our guests for their contributions. I have four quick questions. The first is to Ms Walsh. She may know the answer from the situation in the US, but approximately how many full-time jobs would result from an LNG terminal being built?
My second question is to Professor Howarth. It is more a political than a scientific question. I read today that in the 1960s the United States - and the President of the United States - knew about climate change. That is from reports that came through from the US. The question is about the effect of lobbying, and money, and how that delays change and responses to issues. What is the effect of that lobbying in the US in the context of LNG? Is that lobbying transferable here, and in a European sense, in terms of the proposed terminal and how that can corrupt the entire system?
Professor Robert Howarth:
Yes. We have known that kind of change is real for a very long time. There has been a massive effort on the part of the oil and gas industry lobbying and advertising in the United States to confuse the issue for the public and for policymakers. That is a travesty. The idea that natural gas is a bridge fuel is borne out of that disinformation.
Professor Barry McMullin:
I would encourage the committee to consider having a session exclusively on energy security, which is a big topic. We have shorter-term energy security - the sudden interruptions Dr. Deane spoke about earlier - but then there is the longer-term chronic insecurity, which, as a result of import dependence, this State has suffered since virtually its foundation.
By diversifying our supply routes, particularly for natural gas, which currently is a critical component in our energy system, LNG superficially offers a way of easing what is a worsening security of supply situation for us, particularly as the Corrib field becomes depleted. That said, there is no long-term story in that regard. The long-term story is all bad. We must address our energy security situation. Ireland is incredibly rich in non-carbon energy supply because of our access to the western seaboard, especially in the context of wind energy, but we have to crack the nut of very large-scale storage. In terms of strategic research interest for Ireland, we have an overwhelming interest from both an economic and energy security point of view. It is overwhelming that we would want to do that.
Dr. Paul Deane:
I might briefly add to Professor McMullin's point. He has covered the supply side issue but what we talk about to a lesser extent is the demand side elements. The cheapest form of energy is that which we do not use. We need to refocus on energy efficiency and take a closer look at behaviour. Using less energy can greatly enhance our energy security in times of crisis.
Professor Barry McMullin:
Something that has not been mentioned here but I feel I have to mention is that any increase in our energy utilisation in our current situation will adversely affect our energy security exposure. As a matter of current policy, we will significantly increase our energy use in the next ten years by the rapid expansion of the data centre industry in Ireland. There are many good aspects to that sort of development but there has not been nearly enough discussion on the interaction of that with our worsening energy security situation.
My final question is to Mr. McElligott. On PCI status, he mentioned that he had got what he thought was a positive response from the Minister last week; he should emphasise the word "thought". Mr. McElligott is saying the Minister is willing to ask the people who did not do something about this if the project complies with the PCI regulation? The question is about sustainability.
Mr. John McElligott:
It is critical. In my introduction I asked how the members intend to make decisions at a high level. If we are stopping assessment of policies at a very high level, their hands are tied. The different political parties are very close in terms of their interpretation. They seem to accept that they have not assessed the sustainability issue. There seems to be acceptance that at a European level they have not assessed the project. I spoke to various people in the Directorate-General for Energy and they said they would assess it for the next PCI list. The precautionary principle is very strong in the EU. The members know there was a problem. The Minister knows there was a problem, as do his officials. Everybody knows we have not assessed emissions, which is critical. When Mr. Mitchell and I were in Brussels in May, we spent about an hour discussing the methodology that would be used and the criteria for discussing these projects. We deliberately asked the people we met if they intended to assess sustainability and they said, "Oh, but gas is good; it is the same for everybody". We told them there was a difference between fracked gas and conventional gas. They were very uncomfortable with that. That is the reason ACER came out afterwards and said we did not engage in a proper assessment.
The European Commission is breaking the law. The Irish know it is breaking the law but, at the moment, it is an Irish decision. The decision for Ireland was to put it on to the PCI list then wash its hands. It did a Pontius Pilate with it and said their hands were tied in Ireland. The members have a duty to ask the Minister what gave him the authority to make a political decision on energy policy, which is really regulation. He made a political decision. As politicians, and a committee, the members must get him to answer that question. They will ask us to pay big carbon taxes and encourage us to drive electric cars. On a personal level, in north Kerry, where I am from, near where all those other people are from, we will be asked to do that and they will tell us they might power them with fracked shale gas from America. What is the point?
I ask Mr. McElligott to take them to the European Court of Justice because that is the only place the matter will be solved. The Minister or the European Commission will not solve it. Only the European Court of Justice will solve it.
Mr. John McElligott:
That is interesting because the High Court referred the current exempted planning to the European Court of Justice on certain issues. There is also a threat from Friends of the Irish Environment that if the Minister approves the strategic assessment without public consultation, they will go to court within three months.
The energy charter refers to stranded assets. If a company puts a floating storage re-gasification unit on the estuary it has an expectation of making money for the next 50 years. If we walk away leaving the asset stranded, the company will come after us for a loss of money. Should there not be a money message on the whole plan?
This is a critical issue. If we have to wait on research, how do we continue to function as a society without electricity? We have to reduce what we use and industry is working with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to reduce that, with some degree of success. What do we do? How do we back up what we require, even if we take all the actions that have been mentioned? We will still need to generate a certain amount of energy. How will we do that without fracked gas?
A battery storage facility is planned for Offaly, run by a local company which will be experimenting with flywheel technology. How much capacity does that have to provide security for us in terms of storage?
Dr. Paul Deane:
Ireland needs to pursue increased energy efficiency, massive deployment of renewal resources such as wind, solar and bioenergy. Doing this will get us going on the direction of travel but reducing emissions in line with the Paris Aagreement will require looking at new technologies, such as with a breakthrough in energy storage to store massive amounts of energy or by replacing energy carriers with new fuel such as hydrogen. Hydrogen can be generated from variable renewable electricity such as wind or solar as well as natural gas, by breaking the gas molecule. Battery storage will play an important role in the future but the scale of the issue is often underestimated. Storing enough energy for five days would require about half the world's global battery capacity in Ireland right now. The scale is daunting but it should not deter us from pursuing renewable energy, indigenous resources and energy efficiency
Professor Barry McMullin:
Battery storage has a role but it is for the short term - maybe for less than one day. To eliminate the need for natural gas as a backup to electricity generation we need to be able to shift from weeks to months. There are three orders of magnitude and the scale required is a factor of 1,000. The role for batteries is not the same as the role for long-term storage. The only plausible routes are synthesising chemical fuels from electricity. This means we generate renewable electricity from wind and solar when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining and we overbuild the capacity relative to instantaneous demand so that we can put the surplus into storage for when the wind does not blow etc.
I do not know if I am optimistic or aggressive but given the challenge and the urgency, we have to press ahead. The natural gas route, including fracked gas, is too short so we have to proceed with all possible speed. The basic technologies for producing hydrogen from electricity are well proven, well known and well established but the technologies for storing hydrogen at progressively larger scales, while the basic research is well developed, require pilot deployments before full-scale deployments. Medium-scale to large-scale hydrogen synthesis facilities are already being built in northern Germany. This could be rolled out in the next decade but it requires a policy imperative and we need to say it is a national priority. It will involve projects of common interest and critical national importance and we should look in particular at chemical storage, particularly if we continue to say "No" to nuclear deployment. Carbon capture and storage, CCS, makes sense if we are willing to blinker ourselves to the upstream emissions on the basis that they are the responsibility of some other country, although it is expensive. We are all living on the same planet, however, so there is no such thing as somewhere else - the upstream emissions go into our atmosphere. CCS for fossil fuel mitigation is not a good story, in my view, though we will need it, largely because we are going so fast in the wrong direction and we will end up having to suck carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. CCS is a key enabling technology for that purpose although for continuing to burn fossil fuels it is not so positive.
The Climate Change Advisory Council is of the view that gas should be part of our backup fuel as we decarbonise. What are the witnesses' views on that? The Minister said the Government would not support a grant for Shannon LNG to connect to the European facility until a security of supplier review is conducted. Do the witnesses have a view on that issue?
Professor Barry McMullin:
We already rely on gas for backing up variable renewables and that cannot be turned around in six months or a year. The argument is whether it can be turned around in five years, 15 years or 30 years. We have to get down to that level of detail. The urgency of climate action means we do not have 30 years. Gas will continue to be used for a finite period of time as backup but we need to make it as short as possible. The way to do that is to aggressively build out the alternative which in our case, excluding nuclear, is synthesis of chemical fuels.
Professor Barry McMullin:
The question was about the review the Department was to carry out in terms of energy security and that is really important. However, Deputy Eamon Ryan said our current mitigation targets have lagged behind the science and need to be much more ambitious. If the review is carried out against the current targets it will give the wrong answers. The review will guide policy for ten, 15 or 20 years so that would be a very bad thing. One has to put the horse in front of the cart. We have to look at the level of ambition, then look at what the science is telling us and review energy security against that background.
Mr. John McElligott:
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked whether the Minister said it could be a project of common interest in the overriding national interest.
However, if we have to give it money, we will have to look at it again. The decision to put it in the national interest means that it is in the national interest and the decision is made. What he gave was a non-answer and it is really blurring the position. If it is in the national interest, he must put funding into it. That is why I go back to the idea that he made a decision without having all the evidence before him, which is very serious.
Yes. We are going to close Moneypoint, which burns coal to produce energy and is just up the road from the location at which the proposed LNG facility is to float. I ask all the scientists here whether it makes sense to close a coal-burning depot and import LNG. While Ms Walsh has made a good submission, she has not gone into detail on some of the human impact on communities. I refer to the levels of cancer among children, etc. That would be well worth hearing. Before Mr. McElligott goes, was he ever offered money to pull back from his campaign against the LNG facility?
Mr. John McElligott:
The problem is that these projects of common interest come under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act. While it is a planning issue, that means An Bord Pleanála is the office of first instance. Normally, an administrative decision is appealed to An Bord Pleanála but a decision from the board can only be appealed through the courts, which is very difficult. The last man standing in court at this time was Mr. Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment, which was offered €1 million to pull the case from the High Court and stop that objection. That was very serious. Under European law and the Aarhus Convention, one is supposed to be able to appeal a decision in an administrative manner in a timely and reasonable way. However, in Ireland, we have the concept of last man standing where one has to go to court. In this case, he was offered the money from my knowledge. It is out there in the media that €1 million was offered to pull the case.
Mr. John McElligott:
It is not that it was illegal. What was unusual in this circumstance was that it became public. That is the serious point. It is not the first time with these large energy projects. We all suffered in Corrib. When the case relating to Corrib was withdrawn, the Government said it would ensure that Ireland followed European legislation to the letter and in spirit. I am sorry to say, however, that the exact same thing is being done again.
Mr. Eddie Mitchell:
On that point, it is important that people understand the context. The policy on fracked gas entering the Irish energy mix was going to be decided on the steps of a courthouse in secret. That is something the committee should not accept. This is the forum in which policy should be scrutinised having been developed in the Dáil. We should not have a situation whereby one person can decide the future of 30 years' energy supply for this country. That should never have been allowed to happen.
Ms Julia Walsh:
The health impacts in the short and long term are significant. For the record, I will submit to all members the compendium of scientific, medical and media findings prepared by Concerned Health Professionals of New York to demonstrate the risks and harms of fracking. While Dr. Kathy Nolan was unable to attend, she would be happy to answer questions and set out the positions for social responsibility. Right now, the compendium contains more than 1,500 reports and studies outlining the different risks and issues, including the health impacts we are seeing in Pennsylvania in heavily fracked areas where there are cancer clusters. This includes 67 children in rural areas of Pennsylvania who developed cancer. The area did not have anything like those numbers before. Examples include Ewing sarcoma, which is a very rare form of bone cancer. While there are only a couple of hundred cases of that cancer across the USA, there are quite a few in the counties where those children live.
Unfortunately, we are likely to see more and more of this. One of the things we are grappling with in the USA is trying to get a sense of the number of people who have had to settle with these multibillion dollar companies in signing non-disclosure agreements under which they are not allowed to speak out publicly about the health and other impacts on their families. This industry is shrouded in secrecy because what they are doing is egregious and violates human rights and the environment. We are struggling to overcome that in the USA. I will put the committee in touch with people and put some information on the committee.
Dr. Robert Howarth:
I hope Ireland will not take our fracked shale gas. The whole world must move away from all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Natural gas is simply not the good fuel the industry seeks to convince the world it is. While carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas are lower than from coal, that is less true for LNG than it is for piped natural gas due to the huge energy needs of the gas liquefication process. In addition to the CO2, however, we have significant methane emissions for which there is no reduction pathway. It is a climate travesty to allow natural gas to be viewed as any part of an energy future beyond the next decade. If one was allowing an LNG plant with the idea that one was going to completely phase it out within ten years, it might be logical. However, one cannot consider having a time horizon longer than that. I appreciate the chance to speak to the committee. I wish I could be there in person and thank the committee for accommodating my needs.