Thursday, 3 October 2019
Development of a Liquefied Natural Gas Facility in Ireland: Statements
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. The climate action plan the Government has published sets out an ambition to have 70% of energy on our grid from renewable sources by 2030. The current figure is 30%. In practical terms that will require us to build five times the volume of renewable energy capacity we now have. In terms of operating the grid, it means that the peak load that can be taken from renewable sources, which now stands at 65%, must be increased to 95%. The implication is that for times when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine, we must have quick and flexible systems of introducing supplementary capacity to ensure supply. That will become particularly important as we finally exit from coal and peat generation as set out in the plan.
Having requested advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council, I received advice that, while it was appropriate that Ireland should cease to have new exploration for oil, we should continue exploration for gas because gas provides that quick and flexible capacity to supplement our ambitions to build our grid based on renewable sources. It confirmed that in transition to a low-carbon economy it was appropriate to rely on gas as the most effective way to provide that supplement. It also pointed out that technology will change and that we need to keep a close eye on the opportunity for carbon capture and storage as a supplement to the use of gas.
The liquefied natural gas, LNG, proposal has arisen in the context of the need to provide security of supply for gas for this transition given that the Corrib field will run out or start to decline very significantly during the next decade. At that point, we will be solely reliant on interconnection with the UK, which will no longer be a member of the European Union, meaning that Ireland will be exposed to security of supply issues. The LNG project has been on the projects of common interest for six years because access to LNG provides additional security, as confirmed in studies by Gas Networks Ireland, EirGrid and the International Energy Agency. This the backdrop to why this project continues to be on the list of projects of common interest and of importance for security during the course of the transition to a network largely based on renewable sources.
Being on the EU list of projects of common interest does not dilute in any way the requirement for such a project to get regulatory approval under Irish and EU planning and environmental requirements. The issue here does not in any way undermine the obligation on the sponsor - in this case, a private sector sponsor - to obtain all the necessary regulatory compliance certificates to go with such applications. That is a very important context for this. We are not alone in needing or relying on the potential of LNG imports to provide security of supply. Thirteen EU member states have such import terminals. LNG represents 14% of Europe's energy supply and is an important source of security within a sector that is exposed to uncertainties.
That is why, in a European context, such facilities are of significance and it is also why there is a desire to see them included in a list of projects of common interest.
I am aware of the concerns that some sources of natural gas, such as fracked gas, can contain higher levels of fugitive gases which generate additional greenhouse gases in the form of methane than other sources of natural gas. This is based on certain research papers published by Cornell University. While there is debate about that research, we should be conscious of those in the use of projects of common interest. I have instructed my officials to ask the European Commission whether the implications of importing LNG, both conventionally or unconventionally extracted, into the European Union has been examined in terms of a sustainable, secure and competitive European energy policy and if not that should be undertaken. Being on a list of this nature does not confer any ability to override any of the planning and regulatory requirements, nor does it confer any automatic entitlement to support. In the event of an application being made for financial support for such a project, the Government would have a further role.
I have initiated within my Department a study of the position relating to the security of our energy supply in order to ensure that as we exit fossil fuels, we can be confident in the sources of other energy and their reliability and that these are consistent with the transition to a low-carbon economy. I hope the study will be completed early in the new year.
There is a tendency for people in this House to be very focused on where we source different fuels, particularly fossil fuels. The real challenge for Ireland lies in the fact that it is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent countries in Europe. The plan I have set out is a roadmap to dealing with that and to making the necessary changes. It involves taking cars run on fossil fuels off our roads by 2030. No coal or peat will be burnt in our power stations by that time. Fossil fuels will not be used in new homes. We will refit 500,000 homes in order to make them low-energy consumption dwellings. We will increase the supply of renewable energy on our grid to five times what it is today. Those are the real challenges we have to meet but we must not expose ourselves to potential interruptions of supply that could have significant effects on our economy and society. My approach is to be prudent and to make the correct decisions while being aware of evolving science and ensuring that it will be brought to bear on any decisions we make.
Fianna Fáil very much welcomes the debate this afternoon on LNG development in Ireland. It is only right that this House has the opportunity to address all aspects of this approach to gas supply and also take into account the State's climate and energy responsibilities. In the few weeks since the new parliamentary session began, we have had many debates on climate change and climate action. That is only right because climate change is the defining global challenge of our time. We on this side of the House very much recognise that and we are committed to ensuring that Ireland does its collective fair share and meets legally binding commitments at EU and UN level. I hope the Government will adopt this mindset also. I am reminded of the Taoiseach's comments a year ago when I asked about the State making provision for budgetary fines that would accrue if we did not change course. His rather glib response was that the Government would consider the matter in 2019 and that it was not a budgetary worry for the last year. I hope he has matured and made progress in the context of his attitude.
The current rate of fossil fuel use is unsustainable and must be reduced in the coming years in order for Ireland to meet its climate change commitments. Despite the Fine Gael Government's pledge to decarbonise the economy by 2050, Ireland is completely off track. Fossil fuels account for over 90% of all energy used in this country. As an Irish parliamentarian, I was embarrassed when, at a conference on energy in Copenhagen two years ago, I saw that Ireland was listed pretty much at the bottom of the league table of EU member states in terms of its reliance on fossil fuels and its failure to get sufficiently on board with switching to renewables.
With climate breakdown in full view, we have not only to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we must also look beyond the next ten years when the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets as a result of misguided investments will become very real. Responsible government does not merely involve making announcements and setting targets as this Administration has done, it also involves ensuring a just transition away from fossil fuels and taking firm action. It is in this context that all aspects of LNG development should be fully considered and examined before a brick is laid.
By far the best way to improve Ireland's energy security is to follow the Danish path of energy efficiency and renewables. This includes community gain and ownership and a shared resource in the renewable sector. Fianna Fáil believes that the focus must be on developing Ireland's indigenous renewable energy, particularly from offshore wind and local community energy. There is a huge technology dividend to be gained from a new green economy. We must also be mindful that energy security is not the same as gas security. It is a more complex web which must encompass renewable sources of energy, storage solutions, interconnectors and much more. However, the people expect the Government to be clear in the context of outlining any risk to energy security. We must be mindful that gas supply, particularly from our fully twinned subsea interconnectors to Scotland, is key for electricity generation. Those interconnectors were put in place on foot of significant State investment. Ireland has a 70% target for electricity from renewables by 2030 and fossil gas will play an important role in supporting this development. Further electricity interconnection will also support security of energy supply. We also very much welcome the announcement yesterday that a significant EU grant has been secured for the Celtic electricity interconnector to France. The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment has considered that project in some detail. We are very pleased to see it progress. It makes perfect sense in a continental energy market that wind energy will be harnessed on the west coast of Ireland while solar energy will be connected to the grid on the southern shores of Portugal and Spain. When the sun shines in one place and the wind blows in the other, we can share and trade accordingly. This is a very positive step and it is also an important Brexit mitigation measure.
Taking into account Ireland's climate obligations, it is important that we have an independent analysis of our energy security. This should be facilitated by the Department and the energy regulator, with input from relevant State agencies. All policy in this area must, as in all others, be evidence-based. A full, objective, evidence-based analysis of our energy security risks and requirements must be conducted.
It is also important that our approach will not be focused on or limited to dogmatic decrees. This Parliament needs to include citizens, industry and communities on this journey towards decarbonisation. It must also encourage and pressurise the Government into leading the way. We need an inclusive approach, and issues, such as the one before us today, need to be fully debated. Every party has a right to bring proposals, motions and statements issue to the floor of this House and have them analysed, scrutinised and discussed here. It is appropriate that this House has the opportunity to address the matter in light of the decision on EU projects of common interest, which I understand will be forthcoming tomorrow.
Regarding the need for an inclusive approach, it is extremely disappointing that the Fine Gael Government has so far not progressed with an examination of LNG through the national dialogue on climate action, despite including this as a commitment in the programme for Government. I am also conscious that responsible government in this area is not limited to future projects. It also taking real measures now to influence behaviours and help citizens. There are many steps that can be taken to incentivise, reward and demonstrate to our citizens how we can do this in small and large ways, from rooftop solar on farm or community buildings, microgeneration, grants and incentives for retrofits. There are a myriad initiatives which should and could be achieved and rolled out but the Government has been too slow to do so.
Fianna Fáil has been clear in its opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Ireland since as far back as 2015.
We strongly supported the 2017 legislation to introduce a national ban of onshore fracking in recognition of the health and employment impacts of exporting shale gas reserves. That legislation also has implications for the taking and storage of fracked gas, which is a further issue the Government must closely consider in the context of LNG.
As part of its recent advice to the Taoiseach on the subject of possible exploration, the Climate Change Advisory Council indicated there are proposals to develop significant energy storage capacity in Ireland, which would address some energy security concerns about the current reliance on a limited supply chain. Nevertheless, issues with the embedded greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, compression, distribution and storage of natural gas sourced from a more diverse range of regions and production techniques would need to be addressed. On the basis of the advice, the Government should undertake a strategic environmental assessment and emissions analysis of the possible importation of fracked gas.
As my party and I have stated many times in the House, the need and mandate for greater climate action is clearer and stronger than ever. Climate impacts are a major security concern. Any doubters should look out the window in approximately two hours when Storm Lorenzo hits. It will be hot on the heels of Storms Emma and Ophelia and every other freak weather episode we have witnessed in recent years. The Government should progress with the designation of EU projects of common interest only when a proper assessment of all projects has been carried out. It is also suggested the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action must examine the risks further.
I will outline a brief history of the project, which is in my constituency. It was first announced in 2006 and was fully supported by the local communities, local industry, and every politician and political party. It had received full planning and licensing by 2012 and was supported by the EU as a project of common interest in 2013, which was renewed in 2015 and 2017. In 2016, during the most recent general election campaign, every candidate from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, as well as Independents, fully supported the project, while many mentioned it in their election literature and committed to delivering it if elected. Today we face a debate on whether it should proceed based on the fact it may or may not involve fracked gas. I remind the House we already import gas from the UK, which has an LNG facility. Are we now to ban the importation of gas from the UK and endanger an already precarious energy supply system? There is a ban on nuclear energy, under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, although we import it from the UK and are building a 500 km line to bring electricity from France to Ireland. When it is built, we will import 750 MW of nuclear energy from other countries.
I ask the House to be consistent. If we want to have a debate, let us have it on the issues. This week, the Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent body under the leadership of Professor John FitzGerald, stated we will need some form of gas as a transition fuel for the next 30 years. From where will get the gas for the next 30 years if we are to provide the necessary transition, which we all support, from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy? We need a functioning economy, security of supply and to deliver policies that will have an impact on the climate change agenda we all support.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his assistance in ensuring that the debate was held, and the Business Committee and the Government for scheduling it. As the Minister will be aware, Sinn Féin is fully opposed to fracking, which has been our position for years. It lines the pockets of multinational corporations while contaminating the ground and drinking water, threatening public health and national biodiversity. We supported the Bill to ban fracking and we work with local community groups in counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Fermanagh on the issue. We do not support the Government's attempt to import fracked gas into the State. The previous speaker, from Fianna Fáil, spoke about consistency. The consistency of which we should be aware relates to the fact we cannot on the one hand say we are against fracking and ban it while we import fracked gas from other countries. That would be hypocritical and would lack consistency.
It is important we do not confuse energy security with gas security. That is part of the problem with which some in Fianna Fáil have a difficulty. It is interesting there are vastly different opinions within the party, which is fair enough, but we need to be consistent-----
Deputy Ferris is not in the Chamber and he can speak for himself. I am speaking for Sinn Féin and we have one voice on the issue, namely, that fracking is an environmental disaster. All our policy in the area is evolving. The science is clear and the debate is moving on. One has to be guided by the science on the matter. We also have to be consistent. If we say on the one hand that the State is against fracking, that should be the end of the matter. We should not, as some people try to do, confuse energy security with gas security.
On the proposed Shannon LNG terminal, a meeting of the EU high-level decision-making group will be held tomorrow regarding the projects of common interest list. The Government wants the Shannon LNG project - a fracked gas project - to be confirmed on the list and, to do so, is actively trying to bypass the Oireachtas. That is what it was trying to do when it learned about the many debates being scheduled in the House, including a sitting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which will examine the matter next week. Deputy Bríd Smith has invited a number of experts from the United States to testify before the committee. Why were all the hearings scheduled given that the Government had full knowledge the high-level decision-making group would meet in Brussels on Friday? Will the Minister inform the House whether the group will make decisions and, if so, what input has there been from the Government? If it is the Government's position that the project should go ahead, how will that sit with the Government's stated policy that it is against fracking in the State?
There are many issues for the Government to address. Despite all the concerns that were raised, the Government scheduled all discussion on the approval by the State of the projects of common interest and the consequences of US fracked gas in the Irish energy mix for dates after the approval would be given. It did so even though no strategic environmental assessment of the energy plan to import US fracked gas had been undertaken by the State. The Joint Committee on Climate Action is due to meet next week and we will hear from experts. The EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators stated all the proposed Irish gas projects are "projects, which did not prove that their overall benefits outweigh costs". On the LNG terminal, Sinn Féin is a signatory to Deputy Bríd Smith's Private Members' motion on the issue, which is due to come before the House soon.
I have no difficulty with Deputies, including those who represent Shannon or County Limerick or elsewhere, having their own views. Nevertheless, we as an Oireachtas have to be consistent, as does the Government. I reiterate there is much hypocrisy in the Government's approach to climate change. We saw it in the case of Mercosur and we see it again now. It is simply not acceptable that on the one hand we say we are against fracked gas in the State and ban it while saying it is okay for us to import it. How is that anything other than hypocrisy? We should listen to the experts and the science, which should underpin and form the basis of policy in the area.
The issue of fracking is pertinent for my constituents in Sligo-Leitrim and for those who live in County Fermanagh because there was a significant campaign for many years to ban fracking. In that context, people in the community, politicians and much of the wider public became experts on what the impact of fracking would be on the ecology, the ground water, the geology of the area and so on.
We had a steep learning curve over a couple of years. I remember attending a public meeting in Drumshambo where 99% of people did not know what fracking was. Within six months, people could give one details of mini earthquakes and other things one could hardly believe would be visited on a community in rural Ireland. They were getting this information from other countries in which these things were happening. One of the main places was Pennsylvania along with other parts of the USA. That is exactly from where it is now proposed we should use this terminal to import gas.
Gas is currently being imported and used in Ireland all the time and we do not have this terminal. While people can quote science on both sides and there will be different scientific views, just as there will be different political views, one has to be able to assess those positions and determine the most logical approach to set us on the right trajectory with regard to where we want to be in future. Anyone looking logically at this will recognise that the stated policy of the Government and the House is to move to a situation in which we no longer deal with any fossil fuels, including gas. We are supposed to be removing these fuels from our sources of energy. The proposal to build a new terminal to import fossil fuels flies in the face of that logic. If we are to spend money in the State on anything, it should be to build the infrastructure to source renewable energy and eliminate fossil fuels. Such infrastructure should not require the importation of any gas, in particular fracked gas. That is something that has been put forward by all the community and environmental organisations which are keen to see the Government stand by its word on this.
I note the many Ministers who wear the little badge associated with the UN's sustainable development goals. Those goals are about many things which many of the policies of the Government and its counterparts internationally fly in the face of. One of those things is looking after our environment and the future of the planet. If we are going to look after the future of the planet, fossil fuels cannot be part of our energy production. That means we must stop looking down for our energy and start to look up for it. If we are going to start looking up for it, we must consider solar, wind and other forms of energy supply which do not have that negative impact on our environment. This debate is really about where the emphasis will be. Will it be on continuing to use fossil fuels under the guise that it is part of some kind of transition or will it be on making the clear switch to renewable sources and energy development? If it is the latter, this proposal for the Shannon Estuary is not a sensible one. It might have ten or 15 years ago, but that is not where we are now. We are in a different place. We have declared a climate emergency and, in that context, it is time to recognise that this proposal must be taken off the table.
I thank the Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place. There is a certain irony in the fact that the people to my left in Fianna Fáil voted against holding this debate earlier in the week. I am glad that some of them at least are being positive about what we are trying to achieve here, namely, expose the horrors of the Government signing off without proper understanding or knowledge of the positions of Deputies, Senators and the Climate Change Advisory Council itself. The council, by the way, is made up mostly of economists with very few scientists sitting with them. There is not one climate scientist on the council, which represents a problem from the get-go if that is where our advice is coming from. I thank the 30 Irish and US organisations and individuals who have written to the Taoiseach and the Department, including actor Mark Ruffalo, film maker Michael Moore, and the chief of the Powhatan Renape Indian nations, Dwayne Perry. I hope they will be listened to.
There should be no mystery about whether Shannon LNG will be about fracked gas, but there appeared to be when the Taoiseach said it could be any kind of gas. That is absolutely not the case. New Fortress Energy, the company that owns the project, has stated this explicitly. It told its shareholders, potential investors and the Security and Exchange Commission in the USA that it is going to be fracked gas. Further, the Pennsylvania EPA tells us clearly in its annual report that the bulk of gas from the state comes from unconventional wells. I have a map on which the blue lines represent fracked gas and the green lines represent conventional gas. What is coming out of North America is fracked gas and the company doing the LNG deal in Shannon makes no bones about that. Why, then, does the Taoiseach seek to obfuscate? It is for the same reason the Government did not want us to have this debate in the first place.
I refer to the idea that there is environmental vandalism in energy security. It is important to understand that this is a ruse to justify the continued reliance on and support for fossil fuels by the Minister and Department. Shannon LNG, Cork LNG and the reverse-flow interconnector are not essential to our energy security. We have enough gas for the time being and we have two interconnectors, not one, to Britain and Europe. Therefore, LNGs are not essential to our energy security. Rather, they are essential to those forces that want to profit from the continued use of fossil fuels, in particular fracked gas. The only avenue to secure energy security after Corrib and Kinsale is the legislation about which the Minister spoke last night. That legislation should be brought before the House next week to allow massive investment in offshore renewable energy development to take place. Imagine what we could do with Shannon as a hub for renewables. Imagine what we could do with the Port of Cork as a hub for renewables. The Minister referred to the wind not blowing but I doubt there is a single day when the wind does not blow off the west coast of Ireland. We can destroy the use of fossil fuel in Ireland if we approach it systemically and with the will of the people.
The context of this debate is important. The west of Ireland is hunkering down because of Storm Lorenzo. We have seen extreme weather conditions all year across the planet. The CO2 and methane we are pumping out will ensure that rapid destruction will continue for decades. We need a commitment from the Minister today that this project of common interest will not include the Shannon LNG until it is scrutinised next week and the House gets a chance to vote on it.
The only reason this is being discussed is that climate activists, Deputy Bríd Smith and People Before Profit badgered the Minister and forced the debate. Now that we have forced the debate on the Minister, he should refrain from putting forward this terminal for liquid natural gas from fracked sources as a priority project to the European Commission tomorrow. He has no democratic right to do so. He has not told the House the truth. As recently as yesterday, the Taoiseach misled the House by saying it was not necessarily going to be fracked gas that would come in through this terminal. That was not true, as Deputy Bríd Smith has just outlined. The company that will bring the gas through the terminal has said it will overwhelmingly be fracked gas. Unless Government members wish to be guilty, as I believe they are, of being complete climate hypocrites, how can they say fracking is unacceptable here as it would poison our environment and human health but is fine where it poisons the health and environment of people in Pennsylvania? It is rotten hypocrisy in terms of the Government's claimed commitment to addressing the climate emergency.
If this terminal goes ahead, we will be locked into importing fracked gas, which is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels when one takes into account the methane it produces. That methane holds in heat and warms the planet by a multiple factor when compared to what CO2 does. It is actually more damaging. At the very least, the Government should allow a vote on this proposal. It is outrageous that we would sign up to and approve a major infrastructural project tomorrow when the Government is not telling the truth about it, when the House has not discussed it and while the Government is being absolutely hypocritical about the damage it will do to the climate and people in the United States of America.
Of course, there is a considerable opportunity cost to this when the Minister says this is a transitionary fuel. If we allow hundreds of millions of euro to be spent on building a terminal to bring in toxic, fracked gas, that is hundreds of millions that are not being spent on developing the renewable energy we actually need to deal with the climate emergency.
Methane emissions from the drilling for fracked gas in the US are responsible for one third of the total recent increase in methane emissions worldwide. Methane is second only to carbon in terms of endangering the climate. It is even more dangerous than coal.
Last week, the Taoiseach presented himself as a champion of the environment when he addressed the United Nations in New York but the Irish State will tomorrow support Shannon LNG as a project of common interest at a key EU meeting. Shannon LNG will be, without question or doubt, importing fracked gas from Pennsylvania. How hypocritical is it possible for the Minister and Government to be? If it becomes a project of common interest, Shannon LNG will be eligible for fast-track planning permission and public funding. If the Government gets its way tomorrow, it opens up the door for liquefied natural gas, LNG, projects in Ireland using fracked gas form the US, not just in Shannon.
This development must be opposed by all who care about our environment. Shannon LNG should be taken off that list for approval at tomorrow's meeting.
People in Cork have a particular interest in this issue. The privatised Port of Cork has signed a memorandum of understanding with a US company to explore the question of importation of LNG from the US to Cork. This LNG would also include fracked gas, without a question or doubt. That fracked gas would come from the Rio Grande project in south Texas, near the Mexican border, which could be operational by 2023.
Ireland has its own energy sovereignty. The issue here is, do we want fracked gas to be let into our Irish energy mix? We say the answer is that we cannot and that this proposal must be withdrawn now.
I firstly thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this debate, under considerable pressure from both the campaigning activists and Deputy Bríd Smith, who has pushed this issue for the past week and longer.
If democracy is to mean anything at a time of climate crisis, an opportunity must be allowed to discuss and debate important policy developments. One of the most subtle and devious ways of making a bad decision is to pretend that no decision has really been made. The Government thought it would get these LNG projects on the projects of common interest, PCI, list without having to tell anyone they were putting them there. The Government is acting dishonestly and without regard to the common interest in recommending these projects. Ireland's energy policy is at a turning point. The Taoiseach has already admitted that we are laggards but things could get worse if these PCI projects are approved.
For years, we have been criticised by environmental organisations, the European Commission and other international bodies for our approach to climate action. When faced with mitigation targets, the Irish Government has negotiated loopholes, flexibilities and opt-outs. We have prostrated ourselves before our European partners time and time again, seeking extra time, resources and flexibility. We will miss our 2020 climate and energy targets by a mile and are also a long way off target to meet our 2030 targets. According to the SEAI, Ireland gets less than 10% of its total energy from renewable resources and the remaining 90% comes from fossil fuels, the bulk of which are imported. Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action heard that the Government has not made any effort to lift the real obstacles to community-based renewable energy projects, such as solar energy on rooftops. While peat and coal are being phased out, there is no commitment to phasing out gas. In fact, both the Government and Gas Networks Ireland are planning to expand the gas infrastructure network and lock in more investment and carbon emissions to our energy system. The Corrib and Kinsale gas fields currently supply 65% of Ireland's natural gas needs and the supply will be completely exhausted within 15 years. We know that fossil energy, including gas, is the primary cause of global warming so why would we look for any more gas? Why would we want to invite the most polluting and climate destroying type of gas into our energy mix?
Ireland ratified the Paris Agreement in 2015 and committed to holding global warming to below 2°C and to pursue efforts to keep global warming at 1.5°C. As signatories to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, we are also obliged, as a developed nation, to commit to doing our fair share of global climate mitigation, consistent with our capabilities as a rich nation.
The Irish Government's response to date to our commitments under the Paris Agreement and EU directives has been nothing short of shameful. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, figures, Ireland's emissions are still higher than 1990 levels. We have failed miserably to make the transition to a low carbon economy and, not only that, we are continuing to head in the opposite direction. Experts have predicted that Ireland's national Paris-aligned CO2 quota will be exhausted by 2024. Adhering to this limit would be necessary if Ireland was to contribute its fair share to the global effort to reduce emissions. After that, there would have been an implied moral obligation for Ireland to urgently clean up all of its further CO2 and, ultimately, take carbon out of the atmosphere over the following decades.
If the Taoiseach was honest, instead of saluting the young climate strikers at the UN summit last week, he should have apologised for using up the atmosphere and leaving those strikers with nothing. It will be up to them to figure out solutions to clear up our mess.
It is the Government's intention to adopt the list of projects of common interest tomorrow. I ask the Minister to postpone and not to do that and allow proper debate in this House and at next Wednesday's sitting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action where we will hear from experts who can play a key role in explaining exactly how this will impact us.
I want finally to highlight that this policy is not only an Irish one but one being pushed by the US fossil fuel industry which has more or less captured the Republican Party and the presidency of Donald Trump. US activists have travelled to Ireland this week to ask us not to import fracked gas because of the devastating impact it is having on communities across the US. Instead of taking on the role of the world climate leader, the US oil and gas companies must begin rapidly decarbonising to avoid runaway climate disaster. The United States is moving further and faster than any other country to expand oil and gas extraction. Not content with destroying the world with nuclear weapons and proxy wars, the US is also exporting a pollutant which will remain in the atmosphere, just like nuclear fall-out, more or less forever. We cannot decarbonise our economy with fracked gas and should not import it.
Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta Bríd Smith as ucht an bhrú a chur sí ar an Dáil chun an t-ábhar seo a phlé.
There is a danger here if the Minister listens with closed ears and thinks this is just the same old stuff from the Opposition on the radical left. It is a serious problem for democracy if that is the approach he is taking. I have repeatedly spoken on climate change since I came into this Chamber; indeed, I could quote any speech I have made since May 2016. Ireland has the third highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in Europe and, for the past three years, we have been bottom of the scorecard. I could pick any statistic but I do not wish to. What is really important for me here today is that, last night, the Minister stood up and talked about more engagement with young people. I said that the time for engagement has passed. It is time to show leadership and to show young people they can trust us. The Minister does not even have to agree with me, but if we give across a message that we are hypocrites who are saying one thing and doing another, that is a serious difficulty, but it is exactly what is happening here.
Ireland's emissions are the third worst in Europe and have risen since 1990. The Minister is waving an action plan at me, yet he is going to give a thumbs up to this initiative tomorrow. There is something seriously wrong somewhere.
I am pleased this will be debated at the committee next week.
I welcome that. I hope the Minister will tell us that no decision will be made tomorrow because that is what a rational, intelligent human being would do based on scientific evidence. I keep repeating that many Deputies were hauled into the audiovisual room to hear about the importance of making decisions based on science. Science Foundation Ireland told us how important that was. We know that the scientific evidence is beyond dispute. I feel like a broken record repeating that message and that the window of opportunity continues to narrow. I wonder how the Minister, as a human being, responds to the fact that as the window narrows, he is still trying to stand over a decision such as the one to be taken tomorrow without debate. The Minister has had words such as "hypocrite" hurled at him? These are not helpful words, and I, too, have used them, but this is the space we are in we see what the Government is doing and its denial of climate change. On the one hand, it produces report after report while, on the other, it plans to state tomorrow that this is a vital project of common interest that does not even need to be discussed in the Dáil because the Government knows what is best.
The Government promised an energy review. That will be crucial because we rely on energy to keep our people alive and the economy going. The Minister should fast-track that review and should not make decisions that pre-empt it. When will we get that review? To describe gas as essential pre-empts the review and amounts to a complete denial of the scientific evidence. The Minister should read the biodiversity report and the latest report on our oceans adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change before asking himself how he can possibly live with the cognitive dissonance he and his Government are displaying in having plan after plan on climate change while doing the complete and utter opposite. The Opposition has a duty to highlight that. We should not get personal with the Minister but hold him to account. We are holding him to account and telling him that, as Deputy Boyd Barrett noted, he has no democratic mandate to make this decision tomorrow or to allow it to go ahead. We are asking the Minister to see sense by not proceeding, which would give the young people of Ireland and the world some hope in our leadership.
We banned fracking in this country after significant public and political debate. The argument was clear. Fracking is a dirty way of obtaining gas and we agreed that on public health and environmental grounds its impacts were too serious to ignore. We do not even know the full environmental consequences of fracking, yet we face the prospect of gas that has been obtained by this method becoming available here. We are not okay with fracking in our own back yard but we have no problem with the environmental damage being done in another country and we will actively support that. This is an example of double standards.
The 2015 White Paper on Energy set out a roadmap for the State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 80% and 95% by 2050. How can the Minister realistically hope to achieve that target by importing fracked gas which will increase emissions when burned? That approach does not make sense. In reply to a parliamentary question on this subject late last year, the Minister tried to keep his hands clean by telling me the Government's stated aim was to move from a fossil fuel based system. The LNG project was, he said, a private commercial project and decisions were the concern of the parties involved. That ignores the point that the importation of this gas fundamentally undermines all the stated climate plans to which the Department pays lipservice. I am not the only Deputy who has been inundated with correspondence from constituents expressing dismay about this. I am sure the same applies to the Minister. This is not the last time we will hear from people who are active and keeping a very close eye on this issue and other issues on climate.
The proposed LNG deal, like the Government's flawed national development plan, does not take account of the declaration of the climate emergency. It is proof positive that this Government is happy to greenwash for media purposes but environmental actions are severely lacking in the trade-off between Fine Gael choosing between big business and the environment. Big business cannot always win. We have one planet and we cannot differentiate between it and some notional corporate planet. This issue must be viewed in that context.
As previous speakers stated, there is no mandate to sign this deal. We cannot be critical of what happened in the UK when parliament was ignored, while doing exactly the same here. I hope the Minister will pay close attention to what Deputies have said.
When this project was originally put forward in 2008 it was not opposed. We lived in a completely different world then. It was in the middle of a Russia-Europe gas crisis when people across eastern Europe were freezing in their apartments after the gas supply had been cut off. Fracked gas was only in its infancy at the time and we did not have renewable power supplies at the cost competitive rates that are available now. Since then, everything has changed and the Department and Minister must now change their position. The first change was that the European Union responded to the Russia-Europe gas crisis by improving its systems of energy security to ensure gas will flow across the European Union efficiently and securely given the risk that Russian gas supplies will be cut off.
The Minister said that Britain's exit from the EU might increase risk. Our gas supply comes through Northern Ireland and I cannot see any possibility in any type of Brexit of that gas flow being shut off. One area of agreement across all the Brexit talks is that we will maintain an all-Ireland energy market and the energy links between the UK and the rest of Europe. The UK is also exposed because its security of supply depends on gas imports from the Continent. For this reason, I do not buy the argument on security.
Having observed the proposed LNG project over the years, I understood that it was dead in the water years ago because there is no economic case for it. I recall that the regulator made various calls related to the allocation of costs for the gas grid network which effectively scuppered the project. Nothing has changed in that regard. The only potential change is in respect of the only other project Ireland has on the projects of common interest list, namely, the reverse flow on the Moffat interconnector. In that case, it is important to listen to the European Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators in Europe, ACER, which stated that there had not been a clear cost-benefit analysis done on the project and that the calculations for it had not been explained. That project should not go ahead. Without that project and without change in the Department or the regulatory position whereby the full cost of the grid will not be applied to this terminal, the project will not proceed on economic and environmental grounds.
On a radio programme this morning, a gas industry representative spoke about the opportunities presented by carbon storage. Back in the day, we did a very detailed assessment of the storage potential near the Shannon Estuary. After very detailed analysis by the Geological Survey of Ireland was that we do not have any storage location in the area. Contrary to what the gas executive said today, the economics of carbon capture and storage are completely unproven and the process would cost much more any alternative cost system we could get from developing offshore wind or solar power. There are other ways that we could provide storage and security. The development of hydrogen using electrolysis from wind power to turn into stored hydrogen will probably be how things will develop. Moreover, as the Minister noted, we will have Corrib gas coming in for the next ten or 15 years, which gives us time to make the switch and invest in the renewable zero carbon future.
We cannot bet on or invest in gas. There is already a massive oversupply and an overextension of the numbers of new applications for LNG terminals and pipelines in Europe, which if they are all built and used, will completely blow the European climate plans and budget.
This is key issue in Brussels. There are real issues as to whether the European Investment Bank, EIB, will fund this kind of gas infrastructure. I hope that the Minister's Department and this Government, contrary to the rumours I hear, will take a position within the European Union and say that we will take the money out of that sort of fossil fuel investment and we will keep it in the ground and develop the alternative renewable supply, which is the only secure, safe and safe for the planet energy system we should turn to. We should stop this project in its tracks. It makes no economic or any other sense.
I confirm my support for the motion circulated by Deputy Bríd Smith on this matter and I commend her on her tenacity in ensuring that at least some debate took place in the Chamber on this issue. Nothing shocks me any more. The manner in which the Government has gone about this issue shows a very brass neck - effectively, pulling the wool over the eyes of the public and the Dáil. Imagine scheduling a debate at Oireachtas committee level next week while actually dealing with this issue tomorrow at European level. That is certainly not democracy. It is not what we are about in this House. There needs to be full and informed debate on this issue among the general public, in the Oireachtas committee and in the Dáil Chamber and a decision should be taken following an informed and full debate.
The question of fracked gas terminals must be removed from the list of projects of common interest immediately. This proposed project should not go ahead until that has happened. We know that fracked gas is a very dirty gas. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, behind carbon dioxide. It is 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We know that the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that shale gas production in North America may have contributed to approximately one third of the total increased methane emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.
The manner in which this matter has been dealt with is anti-democratic. We need a full and informed discussion in this House, in the committee and among the public on this issue. This project should not go ahead and no decision should be made by the Government in the EU tomorrow.
I thank Deputies for participating in this debate. This is a very important issue in that we now need to embark on an accelerated programme of removing fossil fuel from our energy mix. Unfortunately, we are starting from a position, as Deputy Lawless said, where we are north of 90% dependent on fossil fuels. This journey is going to require us to use natural gas. That is the reason behind the advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council that we should continue to explore for natural gas. That is the reason the liquefied natural gas, LNG, projects have been on the European projects of common interest for six years and continue to be a concern. Security of supply of natural gas continues to be a very important European concern.
In the context of the projects of common interest, as I said in my opening comments, 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.
I can also give an assurance to the House that being on the list of projects of common interest confers two benefits. One is the potential for a quicker planning process. As the House knows, this Shannon LNG project is already in its planning process and this benefit does not confer anything fresh on this project. The second potential benefit that this would confer is that this project could apply for funding under the common European funding mechanism. As I indicated in my opening comments, this will come back to the Government for consideration, if such an application is made. I will consider such an application against the backdrop of a review of energy security and sustainability, which I am undertaking. Only if I am satisfied, in the context of that review of energy security and sustainability, would I consider supporting funding for this private sector project.
While this is a European process, which has been under way and on the list for a very considerable period, I would only consider supporting an application for funding if I am satisfied that it represents a correct approach, both in the context of our ambition to move away from fossil fuels and of energy security, both of which are important.
It is important for Deputies to be aware that no country can decide the energy mix of another state. We cannot decide what China's or the US's energy mix is. It is also important to realise that when the UN examines the energy mix of different states, from the point of view of climate, it includes fully within its evaluation any greenhouse gases created by fugitive gases. That must be accounted for within the system.
We cannot, as a country, pick and choose which products we take based on their environmental profile.
That would have to be decided at European level. As I indicated to the House, I will be undertaking a review of energy security and sustainability. It is only in the context of such a study and where I am satisfied that such a project fits in with that, that I would support an application for funding. All the advice I have received from experts is that having access to LNG is an important supplement to our security of supply and that we should have that.
As Deputy Brassil pointed out, there can be fracked gas in any gas resource. There are limits on our ability to dictate what other countries do in regard to the supply-----
-----EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland, GNI. I am indicating to the House that I am conscious of the concerns and I will be undertaking a proper study of those issues and it will be against that background that I will judge any consideration of funding of such a project.
I wish to add my voice to those in opposition. Sometimes there is a chasm between the language that the Government uses around climate change and then its actions. Fracked gas is one of the most dangerous gasses there is, not only in terms of the CO2 it emits but also in the level of methane that is created when it is extracted from the ground and the damage it does to the societies from which it is taken. One of the greatest problems we have relates to the plans to extract gas by means of fracking in Fermanagh and other parts of the North of Ireland. The projects in this regard are proceeding. It would be bananas for the Government to state that it is serious about climate change and then to proceed to import fracked gas from another jurisdiction.