Thursday, 28 September 2017
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Environmental Protection Enforcement
242. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the environmental protection measures undertaken during the exploration further to the exploration licence granted by his Department for the Porcupine Basin off the south west coast; the ongoing audit or review process undertaken by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41166/17]
Ireland’s transition to a low carbon energy future will involve progressively moving to lower emission fuels, e.g., moving initially from peat and coal to natural gas, and ultimately towards an even greater reliance on renewable energy. In that regard, the Government has introduced a range of policy measures and schemes to incentivise the use of renewable energy and deliver energy efficiency. However, oil and natural gas will remain significant elements of Ireland’s energy supply in the transition period.
Ireland currently sources all its oil from abroad and sources its gas supply from a combination of the Kinsale field, the Corrib field and the gas pipeline from Moffat in Scotland. Corrib and Kinsale are not in a position to meet all of Ireland’s annual gas demand and so Ireland will continue to rely on gas via Great Britain for the foreseeable future. The Kinsale fields are expected to cease production by 2021, while Corrib production is projected to decrease to 50 per cent of its initial levels by 2025.
Taking the above into account, successful exploration in Ireland’s offshore has the potential to deliver benefits to Irish society and the economy, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply and reduced fossil fuel imports. However, any such exploration must be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner.
In 2015, my Department completed the Irish Offshore Strategic Environmental Study 5 (IOSEA5) process with the adoption of the Plan underpinning IOSEA5 and publication of the IOSEA5 Statement. The objectives of IOSEA5 were to inform my Department of specific environmental considerations in future petroleum activities under licensing rounds in the Atlantic Margin Basins, as well as the award of licences in the Celtic and Irish Seas; and to provide exploration companies working offshore with an operational baseline against which they can conduct their work and ensure the protection of the marine environment.
On 11 July 2017, approval to drill an exploratory well within Block 53/6-A in the southern Porcupine Basin off the south west coast of Ireland was granted to Providence Resources Plc.
Prior to granting approval, the application to drill from Providence Resources was considered against a range of technical, environmental, and financial requirements. In addition, the company had to obtain a safety permit from the Commission for Energy Regulation and approval by the Irish Coast Guard for the company’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan and Well Emergency Response Plan .
In respect of environmental requirements, the company was required to submit an Environmental Risk Assessment and a Natura Impact Screening (Appropriate Assessment) Statement in support of its application to commence drilling activities and these were considered in the context of the likely effects on the environment of the proposed drilling.
A review was undertaken for my Department by Bec Consultants, an independent consultancy appointed for their expertise in ecological and conservation marine biology to inter alia:
- examine the submitted Environmental Statement and assess whether or not it met the scope and quality of requirements set out or implied by the specific European and Irish Environmental Impact Assessment legislation and guidelines;
- appraise the Environmental Statement, highlighting any deficiencies in respect of the statutory requirements of the Statement and detailing the outcome and resolution of any such deficiencies; and
- ensure that the requirements of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011, for an assessment to be carried out on any plan or project likely to have a significant effect on a protected site or species were met by the Appropriate Assessment Screening Report.
In addition, the National Parks and Wildlife Service was requested to provide its observations in terms of Natura 2000 sites, where relevant, and Annex IV species (Cetaceans) in accordance with the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).
The documentation associated with this environmental assessment is available on my Department’s website.
During the course of offshore exploration operations, the Department audits environmental compliance by reviewing daily environmental reporting, as well as daily operational reports for both geophysical survey and drilling operations. Additionally, in the case of drilling operations, a rig inspection visit takes place during operations in order to audit compliance with the conditions associated with the use and discharge of added chemicals, in accordance with the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment in the North-East Atlantic.