Kevin Myers: Pat Rabbitte's speech is the most brilliant and forensic refutation yet of the anti-Shell rhetoric
GOOD. Indeed, excellent: what an outstanding start from Minister Pat Rabbitte in the Dail on the vexed issue of Ireland's natural energy resources.
Few matters have been so deliberately misrepresented as "our" oil and gas reserves -- which is no doubt why the minister began the main thrust of his speech by dealing with this bogus popular perception.
There was, he said, "a developing myth that Ireland has vast discoveries of oil and gas off our shores and that imposing a higher rate of tax on the production of these petroleum resources would eliminate all of our financial worries".
The reality is quite different.
"There is periodic publicity . . . (that) there could be in the order of 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the Irish offshore." However, that is an estimate not of what has been found, but of "what might be present, based on geological criteria and regional comparisons".
What followed could have been written by me.
"Some commentators have chosen to represent this estimate in a manner that would suggest that this volume of oil and gas had actually been discovered offshore Ireland. This is quite clearly not the case and it is misleading to suggest otherwise . . . It would take hundreds or thousands of exploration wells to discover if the estimate is accurate."
Moreover, he added, whatever potential benefits exist might only be exploited in up to 30 years' time.
The minister -- let me remind you, formerly a member of Sinn Fein the Workers' Party -- then hammered home some truths that should make the eco-left swallow hard and think again before they sound off on how we are being ripped off by Shell at Rossport.
- The cost of drilling even 100 commercial exploration wells in the Atlantic would be well over €10bn.
- The oil industry is a truly global industry and Ireland competes with the rest of the world. We cannot set tax terms in isolation or else prospectors go elsewhere.
- Industry decisions on where to invest in exploration are principally driven by two key factors: geology and economics. If the prospects are good, the tax regime makes little difference. If the prospects are bad, the tax regime is irrelevant.
The high level of successful exploration in the UK and Norwegian offshore areas means that exploration companies have invested heavily there, despite the higher levels of tax than Ireland's. More than 1,200 exploration and appraisal wells have been drilled to date in Norway and more than 4,000 in the UK. The figure for Ireland is 156. Yes, 156.
The UK has 300 producing fields. Ireland has three. One of these, the still-beset Corrib field, whose travails could one day drive Shell from these shores forever, is 1/50th of the size of the Troll field in Norway.
The logic of all this is that if our petroleum tax terms were at the same level as those of the UK or Norway, there would be no exploration investment whatever, with no new exploration wells and no new oil or gas discoveries.
"Those who say our tax terms are too low might be happy," said the minister, "but I would remind them that 60pc of zero is still zero."
Now this is the voice of a man of the left, who not so long ago would have voiced the very inanities now being uttered by Sinn Fein about "our" oil and gas -- as, indeed, once would I. Ah well: some people learn.
The bitter truth is that almost no one wants to meddle in our waters any more -- especially when it is apparently on the gap-year agenda for Ross O'Carroll-Kelly's brainless friends Emma, Emma-Emily and Emma-Emma that they be videoed pose-protesting on Shell vehicles at Rossport.
And if they're really, really lucky, they'll be arrested, whereupon they can promptly squeal about "garda brutality".
Moreover, despite all the conspiracy fantasies you've heard, Corrib is now our only available energy option -- it could supply some 60pc of Ireland's gas demand.
WE import 95pc of our gas needs, while exploration levels remain terrifying low. But why would anyone explore here? No serious multinational is going to allow its global investment strategies be decided by posturing little schoolgirls having a truly mesmerising experience to tell their friends Gavin-Mark and Conor-Keith about. "I'm like, Omigod, NO WAY will I get down from this truck."
Pat Rabbitte's entire speech is the most brilliant and forensic refutation yet of the left-wing, anti-Shell rhetoric emanating from Fintan O'Toole and Lorna Siggins of the 'Irish Times' and repeated ad nauseam on RTE. Indeed, as the minister insisted, Corrib remains our only reliable energy source, for now we know how erratic wind can be. Already this year, there have been some 30 windless days, producing almost zero energy from our hugely expensive, taxpayer-subsidised wind farms.
Thus at noon on April 16, when the demand for electricity was over 3,000 MW, wind generated only 60 MW -- just 2pc. So whatever wind can produce, we still need the equivalent back-up from fossil fuel or nuclear, no matter what Duncan Stewart is allowed endlessly say on the state broadcaster: Reiterated Tendentious Eco-twaddle.
Indeed, the only wind that was wholly reliable during the coldest and longest winter in our history came from our gallant green eco-warriors, complaining about Rossport.