Last updated: July 2013
Lindsay Whalen explains how it is only the corporations that are likely to benefit from Ireland’s natural resources.
If you’ve followed the news regarding Ireland’s economic crisis, you’d be forgiven for not realising that the country has significant valuable natural resources: 20 billion barrels of oil according to oil company estimates. Yet in a country with austerity cuts to health, education, pensions and benefits, only the corporations are likely to benefit from Ireland’s natural resources.
Arrangements for the exploration terms and ownership of hydrocarbons were introduced by the corrupt Haughey government 20 years ago, following heavy lobbying by the oil industry. Ownership and control of the oil or gas is transferred in full to the company; no royalties are paid to the state; resources do not have to be sold in Ireland, and if they are sold in Ireland then Irish consumers will pay the full price.1 The only guaranteed benefit to Ireland is a 25% corporation tax on profits from the sale of the oil or gas. But the company can write-off 100% of costs against this tax, including costs for previous unsuccessful wells drilled. This 25% is the worst government take in the world, with Peru’s 40% the second worst.
The Government has also granted preliminary authorisations to explore for shale gas in 12 counties across Ireland. The companies holding the licenses are: Tamboran Resources PTY Ltd, Lough Allen Natural Gas Company Ltd and Energy Oil PLC.
In May 2012, a preliminary study into fracking in Ireland by the University of Aberdeen for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified potential risks to groundwater and risks of earthquakes. Five Irish local authorities have voted to ban fracking, but the decision will rest with the Government and the EPA. They may encounter some resistance though, as people in Ireland have learnt a lot from campaigners in Rossport, County Mayo, where Shell’s Corrib gas project has been delayed for over a decade.
Shell's Rossport gas pipeline
Local people, and campaigners from across the world, have faced the full force of the Irish state trying to prevent a project linking the Corrib offshore gas field to Shell’s onshore refinery, via a ultra-high pressure raw gas pipeline that passes through residential and special areas of conservation.
At the planning appeal hearing, Shell consultants admitted that in the event of a leak “houses within 230 metres of the pipeline could burn spontaneously from heat radiation’’ and that ‘“houses within 171m would be at risk if the gas pressure was at 144 bar.’’ The gas would be odourless, so residents would not be alerted to a leak – odour is added at the refinery. The gas would also still contain chemical impurities that corrode pipes and are highly explosive. The government has introduced Compulsory Acquisition Orders to take people’s land for Shell, and deployed huge numbers of police and even the Navy to suppress opposition.
Despite this, resistance continues in a variety of forms. Local people in Mayo have made links and offered support to other communities opposing Shell, Big Oil and corporate agendas. A group of activists, who died demanding the survival of the Ogoni people in the face of destruction from the activities of Shell in the Niger Delta are remembered annually on a Good Friday walk.
‘The Ogoni nine’ were murdered by the Nigerian military dictatorship in 1995. Walkers in Mayo trace the route of Shell’s onshore pipeline through their community carrying crosses bearing the names of the murdered activists. The crosses bearing the names of the Ogoni form part of a memorial outside Shell’s Ballinaboy refinery.
Campaigners across Ireland facing the prospect of fracking have invited local people fighting Corrib to speak to their neighbours about what could be in store and have visited the pipeline route and met campaigners in Mayo.