Republic will need equivalent of another Corrib gas field to supply power plants

Minister declared a moratorium on LNG projects in May pending the outcome of an energy security review

The Republic will need the equivalent of another Corrib gas field to supply power plants planned by government, says one industry figure.

Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, Climate Action and Communications, recently confirmed that building new gas-fired electricity plants was a "national priority".

Government climate change plans include proposals to build enough gas power plants to generate a total of 2,000 megawatts of electricity to aid a shift to renewable energy by the decade’s end.

Industry veteran Michael Nolan calculates that at their peak these plants will need an average of 300 million cubic feet of gas a day, meaning the State will need the equivalent of a second Corrib field to supply them.

Mr Nolan warned that without alternative natural gas supplies Ireland will end up depending on imports, via Scotland, from the European network which is already under pressure.

He argued that while relying on the interconnector with the UK seemed like the easiest option “it exposes Ireland to European gas supply and demand issues in winter months”.

Recent figures show that 57 per cent of the electricity used here this year was generated by burning natural gas.

Mr Nolan pointed out that Marco Alvera, chief executive of Snam, Europe's biggest natural gas storage specialist, recently told Bloomberg that the region would be in "big, big trouble" if there was a cold winter.

More than 18 months ago Mr Nolan's business proposed a project that would use the existing pipeline at the now disused Kinsale field, off the south coast, to supply liquified natural gas (LNG).

Under his plan, dubbed the Mag Mell project, the LNG would be turned back to gas at sea, stored and brought ashore through the existing network.

However, he said the Government had not responded to the proposal since it was put forward last year.

US group New Fortress is proposing to build an LNG plant on the north Kerry side of the Shannon Estuary as part of a development that would also include a power plant.

Mr Ryan declared a moratorium on LNG projects in May pending the outcome of an energy security review, which is due in the early months of 2022.

He fears that building an LNG plant here would allow imports of natural gas obtained by fracking, a controversial technique that involves fracturing rock to release the fuel, which environmentalists oppose.

However, critics of this view, including Mr Nolan, say that most LNG comes from conventional wells in the Middle East and Pacific Basin. The also argue that permission for any LNG plant here could include conditions barring them from importing any fracked gas.

Interconnector

Critics suggest that the country could already be importing quantities of fracked gas through its interconnector as the technique is used in Europe and Russia.

Further gas exploration off the Irish coast is banned, Mr Nolan noted, potentially closing off another alternative to importing the fuel.

Legislation bars the issue of new fossil fuel exploration licences in the State’s waters, but allows work to continue under existing permits.

Tom O'Brien, managing director of Corrib field shareholder Nephin Energy, recently said there may be potential replacements for the country's only gas reservoir in nearby areas already licensed for exploration.

If these proved viable they could tie in to Corrib’s existing infrastructure, allowing their gas to be brought ashore with minimum disruption.

Providence Resources, majority owner of the Barryroe field off the south coast, which could produce up to 350 million barrels of oil, has said the area could hold significant quantities of natural gas.

However, the Irish offshore industry argues that the exploration ban, combined with conflicting Government energy policies, has deterred oil and gas companies from investing here even in existing licences.