The International Energy Agency are an intergovernmental organization within the OECD framework, set up in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo to guarantee energy security to the global economic system. Governments around the world follow their advice in the hope of increasing economic growth. They are no Greenpeace; they are mostly orthodox economists in three-piece suits. This makes it all the more significant that their leading economist Fatih Birol has warned against building any new large-scale oil and gas developments, which he said would have little impact on the current energy crisis and soaring fuel prices but spell devastation to the planet.
“I understand some countries may look at new fossil fuels but they should remember it takes many years to start production,” he said. “[Such projects] are not the solution to our urgent energy security needs and they will lock in fossil fuel use.”
Birol warned that such projects would not only mean chaos for the climate should they be initiated now, but also could become stranded assets which fail to recover their startup costs when the world moves more decisively toward climate action.
Considering the traditional role of the IEA, and its influence on policy makers, this should come as a giant wake up call to governments and governmental organizations. Yet agencies of the Irish civil service still believe that we can go on with business as usual. In march, Aoife MacEvilly, chairperson of the Commission for Energy Regulation(CRU) claimed that Ireland needs LNG, which would be sourced from fracking sites in the US, for its energy security. Not only does she show blatant disregard for official government policy, the biosphere, people in the US being poisoned from the ground up and everyone around the world bearing the brunt of climate change; she is also going against the advice of conventional economic organizations, which agencies like the CRU usually take their cues from with regard to energy security.
MacEvily also said that LNG infrastructure should be adaptable to green hydrogen. This is despite the fact that almost none of the equipment used in LNG is suitable to handle hydrogen, which is more difficult to store and transport because its molecules are much smaller than the methane that makes up a large chunk of natural gas. It’s true that hydrogen can also be moved as a liquid in ships, but the gas has to be cooled to an even lower -250°C, requiring completely different vessels. Storage tanks, the most costly component of any LNG terminal, are unsuited to holding tiny hydrogen molecules. Not all pipelines can handle pure hydrogen; it can weaken the metal structures and cause leaks. Moreover, ‘build now, convert to hydrogen later mantra’ is a classic trick of the LNG industry and 96% of hydrogen currently is not ‘green’ hydrogen produced from electrolysis of renewable sources, but ‘blue’ or ‘gray’ hydrogen generated from reforming natural gas. This has an even larger carbon footprint than if you were to burn that gas.
Is MacEvilly and her department really so incompetent? or are they becoming willing tools of US financial capital, which seek to externalize the enormous costs, financial and otherwise, that the fracking industry has inflicted on the US. The CRU also show a blatant unwillingness to tackle reckless data center development, the main driver of increasing electricity demand, rising from 5% of electricity usage in 2015 to 14% in 2021, the highest in the world and more than double that of second place Singapore, who issued a moratorium at 7%. In the minds of the Irish civil service more generally and the CRU specifically, all growth is good growth, even if cancerous. People’s basic needs and the health of the biosphere are subordinate to keeping the IDA lead-balloon full of hot air. This is a cancer where US tech companies are generating demand for US fracked gas, through the tax avoidance mechanisms of the Irish state. It is of no advantage to the country in general besides a few short-term construction jobs, and is to the detriment of climate action. This is one cancer that is going to have to be removed, sooner rather than later.
Fatih Birol and the IEA have clearly spoken. Projects like Shannon LNG, if given the go-ahead, would be a folly to human stupidity. A gaping wart on the mouth of the Shannon Estuary, decommissioning this beast in a safe way would fall back on the public and the people of north Kerry, rather than the private interests which lobbied and pushed for this infrastructure. New Fortress Energy CEO Wes Eden’s previous career in sub-prime mortgages should come as a warning. Once again, the only winner would be Wall street. Luckily, our government policy still rules out LNG. There are also committed activists locally and from across Ireland and Europe, as well as those in legal advocacy such as Friends of the Irish Environment, who will not leave this project happen, regardless of our civil servants’ foresight or lack of.