Now is the time to tackle the looming natural gas crisis

Ireland is nearing a time when we will have to rely on the kindness of strangers for supplies of natural gas

 A gas ring on a domestic stove powered by natural gas. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A gas ring on a domestic stove powered by natural gas. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

 

The Irish Academy of Engineering is not a body given to over-reaction or wild predictions. In fact, the organisation behaves much like the professionals in its ranks, carefully assessing problems before proposing solutions.

So when its latest report, Natural Gas Essential for Ireland’s Future Energy Security, makes it clear there are risks looming for supplies of a key fuel, policy-makers should pay attention.

The academy makes it clear that we are nearing a time when we will have to rely on the kindness of strangers for supplies of natural gas, an important fuel in this country that is responsible for half the electricity we use.

At the moment, the Corrib Field provides 60 per cent of what we use, while Kinsale adds 5 per cent. The rest comes from the North Sea via Scotland. Corrib is beginning to decline, while Kinsale is almost empty. By 2030 those pipes from Scotland will be our only source of natural gas.

By then the North Sea will be running out of gas, meaning Britain will have to import much of what it needs, and we will, in turn, have to import from them, putting us at the end of a supply line stretching all the way to Russia and Qatar.

In order to maintain control the Irish Academy of Engineering says that we will need to try to find more natural gas, find ways of storing the fuel and by importing it directly ourselves to a liquid natural gas terminal.

This is arguably the toughest proposition. It will involve building a large industrial facility which will automatically meet resistance. It will also take a long time, possibly five to 10 years from drawing board to completion.

Governments are generally not interested in projects whose benefit may not be recognised for a decade. They also shy away from anything with the potential to generate a planning row. As a result, we will only end up tackling the potential crisis in gas supplies when it becomes an actual crisis, by which time, of course, it will be too late.