Still time for State to pull support for Shannon LNG

Published by Niall Sargent on

October 17th, 2019

The Government is trying to pass the buck on the controversial decision to include a gas terminal in the Shannon estuary on the EU’s priority energy list, the European Parliament has heard.

Speaking at the Parliament’s energy committee yesterday, the Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe said that it is still within the Government’s power to pull the Shannon LNG project from the projects of common interest (PCI) list.

The Commission has now drawn up its fourth PCI list based on the regional recommendations that include 32 gas projects. Inclusion on the list gives access to a multi-billion euro funding pot and a streamlined planning and permit process.

Ireland put the terminal forward for inclusion on the Western European list of projects earlier this month despite criticism that it will make Ireland a gateway for the importation of US fracked gas into Europe.

The US company that owns Shannon LNG currently receives gas supply from the fracking industry and wants to expand its operation into areas of Pennsylvania where fracking is the main method of gas extraction.

A letter sent to the Irish Government on Wednesday from the Commission’s energy division appears to confirm the stance outlined by Mr Cuffe. The letter, seen by The Green News, informed the Government that it has until 23 October for any comments on the final PCI list.  

The Deputy Director-General for the Commission’s energy division Klaus-Dieter Borchardt confirmed to the energy committee yesterday that the PCI decision-making process takes a “bottom-up” approach where states choose the projects that they want on the list.

“We have to follow some clear rules, we cannot keep a project on the list if one member state opposes it and we have had these cases,” he added.

Sustainability problems

Speaking before the Climate Action Committee last week, US climate expert Professor Robert Howarth warned that gas imported from the US is almost guaranteed to come from fracking and will have a greater emissions footprint than coal.

Despite such well-founded concerns over both direct and fugitive emissions from US LNG, the Commission has yet to assess the sustainability of such gas projects on the PCI list.

Under EU regulations, the Commission is obliged to carrying out a sustainability assessment, alongside an examination of projects in terms of market integration, competition and security of supply.  

Mr Borchardt confirmed at yesterday’s energy committee hearing that no environmental or sustainability impact assessment of the energy projects has been carried out to date.

In late September, the Agency for the Cooperation of European Regulators (ACER) outlined its concern that the Commission was not properly considering the sustainability merits of PCI projects.

In addition, the agency said that the positive sustainability assessment for the PCI projects carried out by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas “is tenable only under the specific assumptions that gas will be a substitute of more polluting fuels”.

“The absence of a sound assessment of the projects’ contribution to sustainability leads to great uncertainty and doubts about the viability (or even the need) for the projects in the long run,” the ACER opinion reads.

This issue was raised to the Minister for Climate Action, Richard Bruton TD during a debate in the Dail on the eve of the Irish nomination of Shannon LNG to the list on 4 October.

He said that his officials have asked the Commission if the sustainability of LNG imports were examined. “If not, we have asked that such an examination should be undertaken,” he told the Dail.

LNG Tanker Photo: Joachim Kohler Bremen
LNG Tanker Photo: Joachim Kohler Bremen

Security of Supply

The Government has made its support for LNG terminals clear, stating in the draft National Energy & Climate Plan that this would “improve energy security” and let us tap into the global LNG market.

Speaking at a Climate Action Committee hearing last week, Paul Deane, a research fellow at the Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland Centre (MaREI), said that natural gas will remain an “important backbone” for electricity generation and heating up to at least 2030.

He added, however, that we have the potential to develop clean renewable gas here from animal manure, food waste and grass that could provide 28 per cent of our gas needs going forward.

The addition of the Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France – another PCI project – will reduce future gas needs in power generation, Mr Deane added.

The project will establish the first electricity interconnection between Ireland and the continent and will ensure that we are not fully isolated from the EU energy market post-Brexit.

Earlier this month, the Commission confirmed that the project will receive €530 million to help build the interconnector by mid-2020.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London