Anti-exploration stance is damaging energy security, says Brian Ó Catháin

Brian Ó Catháin's Europa Oil & Gas has a Mayo offshore licence

Donal O'Donovan

The Irish Government’s approach to fossil fuels is making it difficult to secure investment needed to exploit domestic supplies of natural gas and bridge the so-called energy transition until low carbon energy infrastructure is in place, a leading figure in the sector has said.

If domestic gas is not landed, Ireland won’t use less gas but will increasingly rely on imports to plug the gap in the coming decades, according to Brian Ó Catháin, a geologist and petroleum engineer who played a significant role in the original Corrib find in the 1990s and now chairs London Stock Market-listed Europa Oil & Gas.

He was reacting to Energy Minister Eamon Ryan’s decision last week that effectively halted further work at the Barryroe oil and gas prospect off the Cork coast by refusing an exploration permit.

New licences to search for offshore oil were banned by the Government in 2020 with new gas licences blocked last year, but existing licences can be pursued.

Mr Ó Catháin pointed to the G7 group of heads of the world’s biggest economies who this week issued a joint statement saying gas can play an important role ensuring energy security in the short term after Russia’s threat to cut supply as well as facilitating energy transition as renewables infrastructure is developed.

Mr Ryan launched a consultation on the security of energy supply here last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It includes a commitment to end the issuing of new licences for gas as well as oil.

However, Mr Ó Catháin said the general ‘mood music’ from the Irish Government will starve capital from the sector even where permits are in place.

“It makes it hard to go out and secure investment,” he said.

Europa Oil & Gas has a licence to prospect for gas in the Inishkea field off the cost of Co Mayo. The field is close to the existing Corrib Gas field and would piggyback on the existing infrastructure to land gas domestically more cleanly than importing, he says.

The field is likely to take four or five year to develop and have a working life of around 15 years, which is in line with Ireland’s plans to cut fossil fuel dependence, he said.

Ireland’s approach means it might never happen.

“You can be absolutely sure if Government were openly supportive it would be a lot easier,” he said.