Cabinet signs off on new oil and gas exploration ban

Published by Kayle Crosson on

2 February 2021 

The Cabinet has signed off on introducing legislation to ban new applications for gas and oil exploration licences. 

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan gave effect to this commitment immediately, and new applications for exploration licences will be not accepted nor will there be any future licencing rounds.

The Cabinet signed off on the measure today, and it will be included in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Amendment Bill which will go before the Oireachtas shortly. 

The legislation will involve amendments to the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, which currently governs the issuing of petroleum authorisations in Irish offshore waters. 

Existing authorisations for exploration will remain in place and applications and activities, “remaining subject to technical, financial, and environmental assessments as appropriate”, according to the Department. 

The decision sends a powerful message that Ireland is, “moving away from fossil fuels towards a renewable future,” according to Minister Ryan.

The move marks Ireland as the second country in Europe and the fourth globally to introduce a definitive national ban of this kind. 

Grassroot campaigning

The campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground is “strong and sustained here in Ireland”, according to Deputy Director of Friends of the Earth Kate Ruddock. 

“Credit is due to the many grassroots groups and activists who have contacted their TDs, signed petitions, and took to the streets on this issue for many years”, she said. 

Ms. Ruddock stressed that the next step must involve a legally robust ban in legislation that, “prevents any loopholes or legal challenges from the offshore oil and gas industry, especially in the context of existing fossil fuel entitlements and leases.” 

Friends of the Earth noted that they will be calling for the ending of all oil and gas exploration with a specific date for the termination of existing licences. 

Not Here Not Anywhere, a grassroots campaign group dedicated to preventing fossil fuel development in Ireland, welcomed the news and added that, “with strong public support, we’re eager to see further action to block existing licences.” 

They also noted that as more ambitious climate action is demanded, “it’s so important we avoid obstacles such as the ICS mechanism in CETA”. 

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a mixed agreement between the European Union and Canada with trade aspects separate from investment protection elements. 

The trade component of the agreement has been in effect since 2017, and according to a 2019 report from the European Parliamentary Research Service, 98 per cent of tariff cuts have already taken place. 

The aspect left to be ratified is in relation to special provisions in the agreement that would allow corporations to take legal action against states for laws or regulations that would impact future profits. 

Of the hundreds of such cases taken globally, more than half of them were regarding state rules on environmental protection, and around two-thirds of them were ultimately won by corporations or led to state settlements. 

The vote was initially scheduled for December, but following pressure from the public and civil society groups, the vote was postponed

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