Irish consumers would be treated the same as those in the British market in the event of any gas shortages, according to the company operating the UK National Grid.
Under existing agreements, if there is any gas shortage, the restriction in supply through the interconnector with Ireland would be the same as that to Britain’s own distribution network.
A recent report in the Financial Times warned that the UK could shut off or reduce gas supplies via interconnectors to continental EU markets in the event of an EU-wide shortage, such as would be sparked by a cut-off in Russian gas supplies. This sparked fears of the impact on Ireland.
However a spokesman for the UK National Grid said that Irish consumers would be treated “absolutely equally” to those in the British market in the event of a supply emergency. UK legislation would require, in the event of an emergency, that a national emergency co-ordinator would be appointed who would operate independently without references to the business interests of the National Grid company.
Current procedures documented between the UK National Grid and Gas Networks Ireland, which operates the Irish gas grid, stipulate that in the event of any curtailment, supplies to Britain’s distribution network and the Moffat Interconnector in Scotland – which supplies the Republic, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man – would be curtailed equally.
This arrangement has been tested on an annual basis during emergency exercises, most recently in 2021. Under procedures during a shortage, homes and vital social infrastructure would be protected, as far as possible, but industry could face shortages.
Ireland also uses gas to generate about half of all electricity and is currently reliant on the UK for about three-quarters of all gas supplies, with the balance coming from the Corrib field.
Even if supplies were protected to Ireland, the economy would remain vulnerable to further increases in prices which would be likely to follow any further restrictions on Russian gas.
Gas prices have risen sharply since the outbreak of the Ukraine war and recent moves by Russia to restrict supplies have increased fears that it would cut off all gas to Europe during the winter.
The UK relies largely on the North Sea and Norway as suppliers and also imports LNG. Its National Grid says a gas supply deficit “remains extremely unlikely despite the alert levels in the mainland European market”.
A direct link between a Norwegian field and the UK and the existing configuration of pipelines would make it difficult to redirect Norwegian gas from the UK to other EU markets, industry experts say.
The UK also has gas interconnectors with Belgium and the Netherlands, through which the Financial Times said supply could be restricted as part of an emergency plan which could also involve cuts to industry and asking households to reduce consumption.
The UK National Grid points out that it has been exporting large volumes of gas to the continental EU in recent months, well above usual levels. This has been used in rebuilding gas reserves.