Oil Drill Oil well sea

Barryroe oil drilling the last thing the people of Cork need

August 8th, 2018

The oil company Providence Resources recently signed a deal with the Chinese energy consortium APEC to fund appraisal drilling 50km off the coast of Cork in the Barryroe field.

Tony O’Reilly Jr, CEO of Providence, told The Irish Examiner recently that an oil find in the Barryroe field would bring “huge opportunities” and “big investment” to Cork City.

Mr O’Reilly also suggested that oil extraction in Barryroe would bring “enormous benefits for employment in the region [of Cork]”. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

After all, Cork city is in desperate need of redevelopment, or so we are always being told, and that can’t consist of shiny new office spaces in the docklands alone. People need jobs. So let’s take O’Reilly’s assertion that jobs will come flooding in and just consider the accuracy of it for a moment.

Where is the foundation for this promise? As Mr O’Reilly himself has said, Providence Resources will not base themselves in Cork, and never do for their drilling operations. Certainly, there is a chance that there will be jobs in servicing the offshore industry, but the extent of this is also worth questioning.

Although the offshore oil and gas industry is adept at making profits for shareholders, it is not nearly as talented at providing employment. According to the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, the Kinsale gas field has provided only 120 jobs since 1978.

This is a considerable contrast to other energy industries, with the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), for example, boasting of over 4,400 employees in the wind sector.

What of that “big investment” Mr O’Reilly hints of? Could profits be reinvested in Cork? Perhaps, but there is no obligation for Providence Resources and it’s Chinese partners to sell any oil that might be found in Barryroe to the Irish people, to reinvest in the country, or even to land the oil in Ireland.

Just because the oil was found off our coast doesn’t mean it’s ours – and that fact should concern any TD who is standing in the Dáil proclaiming our need for energy security.

As there are no oil refineries in Ireland it is likely that it will be cheaper to ship the oil to other countries for processing. Even if Barryroe yields a commercial oil find, it will take five to six years before commercial drilling could take place.

By this time oil rigs very well may be stranded assets due to international climate agreements. There are also negligible tax benefits for Ireland. In the event of profits, the Barryroe licence would benefit from a 25 to 40 per cent tax rate, paltry compared to the 78 per cent tax rate for oil companies in Norway.

At best, the drilling will do no considerable damage and there may be some offshore jobs for engineers in Cork. At worst, the promises made by Mr O’Reilly are a weak attempt to placate the people of Cork and distract them from the fact that our seas are being sold off.

It may have escaped mention that Providence Resources made massive losses last year – €21.4 million in operating losses to be exact.

Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Concerns have been raised surrounding the impact of offshore drilling on the fishing community. A spill could severely damage fishing stocks, an industry which provides strong employment and profit to Ireland.

Even seismic exploration, carried out before drilling, is hugely damaging. Seismic exploration can cause disorientation and internal bleeding in whales, dolphins and porpoises for distances of up to 100 miles.

More significant than this is new evidence from leading science journal Nature that shows a single exploratory blast kills 100 per cent of zooplankton larvae and 64 per cent of adult krill within at least 0.7 miles. These organisms are the basis of the marine food chain and without them there are no fish to catch.

In addition to this, however damaging drilling may be to the marine environment, oil spills are even worse. Excavating oil wells releases toxic chemicals such benzene, arsenic, radioactive pollutants, and metals such as mercury and lead that can accumulate in our seafood supply.

The Irish seafood Industry provides 11,000 jobs and the tourism industry employs 220,000 people, so let’s not forget what is at stake here. After the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf coastal tourism industry lost about $22.7 billion, and the area’s commercial fishing industry lost $247 million.

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Underpinning all of this is the biggest risk of all: climate change and the continuing rise in extreme weather events in Ireland. The government predicts that costs from direct flooding damages could rise to €1.15 billion per year by 2050.

A recent 2018 study carried out by Newcastle University found that incidents of extreme weather across Europe will worsen from 2050, with Cork predicted to see up to an 80 per cent increase in river flooding.

Providence’s grand plans for Barryroe are the last thing that is going to save Cork from these problems.

By Jessie Dolliver, a final year Botany student in Trinity College Dublin who is involved with the Not Here, Not Anywhere grassroots Irish campaign opposing oil and gas drilling in Irish waters and the importation of liquified natural gas into Ireland. 

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