Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources
Seán Canney TD
Speech for 2018 Atlantic Ireland Conference
Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road
9.00, Tuesday, 30th October 2018
Check Against Delivery
Ladies and gentlemen it is my pleasure to open this, the 10th Atlantic Ireland Conference and Exhibition, and my first as Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources.
The Conference and Exhibition remains a keynote event in the Irish oil and gas exploration and production sector's calendar. It provides an invaluable forum for industry, government, state agencies, the research community, non-governmental organisations, contractors, consultants, students, and indeed interested citizens, to come together and discuss the latest exploration and development opportunities and research results.
In addition, the exhibition and poster area, which I had an opportunity to view this morning, provides an opportunity for everyone to network and share information and ideas.
It is very positive to see so many here this morning. I understand from the organisers that this year's conference registration is expected to have exceeded 400.
This morning I propose to share with you my thoughts on the sector with three aspects in mind:
- Government strategy and policy in respect of oil and gas exploration and production;
- Developments since Atlantic Ireland 2017; and
- Research initiatives.
Government strategy and policy
The momentum behind the urgent need for a transition to a cleaner, more sustainable and less carbon intensive energy future continues to grow. And the technologies and options are improving all the time. The Government is committed to the transformation required to achieve a low carbon and climate resilient future.
The secure, competitive and environmentally sustainable supply of energy is fundamental for our modern societies – for our industries, our homes and our very way of life.
Ireland continues to be highly dependent on imports for its energy needs with 67% of our energy imported in 2017. It's worth noting that this number was closer to 90% only a few years ago.
This improvement does demonstrate the impact energy policy can have; in this case primarily through the delivery of new indigenous gas as well as renewable energies.
We need to maintain this momentum behind decreasing our import dependency, while at the same time continually reducing our emissions and ensuring our energy is cost competitive.
Looking closer at oil and gas, we imported 100% of our oil needs in 2017. While for gas, our dependency was the much lower figure of 34%. This is largely because of the addition of the Corrib gas field in late 2015. In fact, gas provided almost 60% of Ireland's entire indigenous primary energy production.
Future scenarios show that there will be less of these fossil fuels produced within the EU. So while our overall consumption of fossil fuels will reduce over time, the level of fossil fuel imports will not decline at the same rate. This is a concern.
The continued roll-out of energy efficiency measures and increased renewables penetration offers assistance in reducing our import dependency. Measures to do this are set out in our National Mitigation Plan. The Plan sets out the context for our climate change objective, clarifies the level of greenhouse gas mitigation ambition Ireland needs, and establishes the process by which we will pursue and achieve our decarbonisation goals.
So the question is - how does Ireland meet its demand for fossil fuels as we transition to a low-carbon energy system – do we solely rely on imports or seek to source them ourselves?
It is in this context that the Government recognises that the realisation of Ireland's offshore oil and gas resource potential can deliver significant benefits to the people of Ireland in terms of security of supply, import substitution and fiscal return.
In that transition period, the on-going discovery and development of our offshore oil and gas resources has the potential to deliver much needed energy security. In addition, offshore discovery and development has the potential to be a very significant economic driver for Ireland.
Let me turn to the Climate Emergency Measures Bill, which proposes, in effect, to stop future oil and gas licensing offshore Ireland.
Whilst no doubt well intentioned, the Bill will do nothing to reduce our use of oil or gas, it will do nothing to help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and it will do nothing to help us meet our 2020 and 2030 energy and climate targets. Instead, it proposes simply to bind us to only importing our future oil or gas needs. By any estimation we will continue to need oil and gas supplies into the future, in particular for aviation and marine transport, and in displacing more carbon intensive coal and peat in electricity generation. It is also worth noting that not all fossil fuels are combusted, with oil and gas needed for products such as petrochemicals and fertilizers.
I should point out that the Bill remains purely a legislative proposal. Government policies in respect of climate action, energy and offshore exploration, and the application of such policies, remain unchanged.
But let me be clear, that our expectation, and indeed requirement of you as an industry, is to meet the highest environmental standards and practices in carrying out your activities offshore Ireland.
Developments since Atlantic Ireland 2017
Whilst I am new to this area, it is quite clear that there have been significant developments since last year's conference. In particular the work that industry has been carrying out to fulfil their commitments under the Licensing Options awarded under the 2015 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round. The big question in 2017, I gather, was whether these Licencing Options would be converted to Frontier Exploration Licences.
I am pleased to say this morning that the interest we saw in 2015 has not dissipated. Of the 28 Licensing Options awarded, 13 have been converted to Frontier Exploration Licences, 5 have been relinquished, 7 applications are under consideration and 3 do not expire until 2019. In summary, to date companies have applied to convert 20 out of 25 Options. Clare Morgan, Head of PAD Technical, will address these developments in more detail in her presentation. This progress is a further positive signal of the building momentum in oil and gas exploration offshore Ireland.
Regional Seismic Survey
I am pleased today to be able to announce the release of the Department's Regional Seismic Survey, acquired in 2013 and 2014, for only a small administrative fee. This remains the largest 2D seismic survey acquired to date offshore Ireland and comprises 16,800 kilometres of valuable geoscience data over our frontier basins.
And finally turning to Research Initiatives. Research undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in revealing the hydrocarbon potential of our Offshore, and in ensuring that we protect our rich marine environment.
Petroleum Infrastructure Programme
I understand that Ireland is relatively unique in having its own dedicated petroleum research vehicle, the Petroleum Infrastructure Programme or PIP. The Programme was initiated by my Department in conjunction with industry and is 21 years old this year.
Through PIP, which is funded by way of contributions from the holders of Frontier Exploration Licences, industry, my Department and academic researchers work closely to implement research projects capable of supporting efforts to promote effective exploration.
Bio and Litho Stratigraphic study to Update Ireland's Stratigraphic Framework:
I understand significant progress has been made in the project to create a formal litho-stratigraphic framework of all basins offshore Ireland. I would invite you to visit both my Department's booth and Merlin Energy's booth where you will see substantive new results with the first official stratigraphic framework for each offshore basin. This work is essential considering the high level of interest in Irish Offshore.
Trans-Atlantic source rock study:
The work on a major project involving an assessment of geochemical data from all basins offshore Ireland and offshore Newfoundland-Labrador was completed earlier this year also. Up until this year, no single compilation of historical and recent geochemical information had been conducted to fully integrate the petroleum system evolution over this portion of the North Atlantic.
The project compiled all existing petroleum geochemical data on source rocks and hydrocarbons offshore Ireland and offshore Newfoundland-Labrador and in-filled data gaps with new analytical work. This is a very important project considering Ireland's location to other prolific hydrocarbon provinces. The results will enhance our understanding of the petroleum geology of these North Atlantic basins and establish trends in source rock distribution across the conjugate margins.
In November 2017 NAPSA or North Atlantic Petroleum Systems Assessment Agreement between Ireland and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador was renewed. The objective of NAPSA is to foster research collaboration between Irish and Atlantic Canadian researchers. This research collaboration will lead to the establishment of funded scientific projects to enhance our understanding of the petroleum geology of the North Atlantic basins.
Finally, turning to the ObSERVE programme; Marine industrial activities, including but not limited to oil and gas exploration and development, require careful management to ensure consistency with Ireland's environmental obligations.
There remains a requirement for improved knowledge with respect to protected species in Irish Waters in order to inform and underpin appropriate management and regulatory actions while also facilitating development where possible.
The ObSERVE programme which commenced in 2015 is a significant acoustic and aerial data acquisition programme undertaken by my Department in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The Programme is designed to acquire new environmental baseline data, with the aim of filling existing protected marine mammal and bird data gaps in key offshore basins.
The ObSERVE Acoustic study has provided real insights into the relative abundance of fin, blue, sperm, long-finned pilot whales and Sowerby's and Cuvier's beaked whales as well as dolphins. The reports and data are currently being prepared for release to all interested parties by end November. A presentation from our NPWS colleague Oliver Ó Cadhla on the ObSERVE Programme will form part of tomorrow morning's session on Environment and Safety.
In conclusion, it is very positive for Ireland that the industry has given a "vote of Confidence" in the Irish Offshore. The number and quality of exploration companies involved is a welcome development. The Government continues to be committed to exploration in the Irish Offshore by acting innovatively and complementing the work being undertaken by industry and the research community.
I wish you well with today's and tomorrow's conference proceedings.