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INTERVIEW Energy campaigner Padhraig Campbell

Padhraig Campbell believes the answer to the country’s economic plight could be right on our own doorstep.
HELP AT HAND Padhraig Campbell believes the answer to the country’s economic plight could be right on our own doorstep. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Constant crusader

Padhraig Campbell wants the new Government to harness our ocean resources

Áine Ryan

OVER THREE decades ago he worked on offshore oil rigs. Not in the Atlantic but off Scotland in the North Sea. Since then Swinford native, Padhraig Campbell has been a passionate campaigner for the development and exploitation of our west coast’s rich reserves of oil and gas and for a better deal for Irish citizens.
Campbell, who spent his childhood holidays overlooking the vast ocean at Erris, has also been a strong critic of repeated government’s failure to even recognise this great natural resource, which could –  if managed properly – net our cash-strapped exchequer with billions of euro.
While working in Scotland during his mid-twenties, Padhraig Campbell was delighted to hear there was going to be work in deep water off Galway. The Kinsale Gas Field had been discovered some years earlier in the late 1960s and had led to significant economic and infrastructural development around Cork Harbour.
Now, with this news, dockers and business owners immediately saw the spin-off  potential for jobs in the goods and services industry – there would be the servicing of oil rigs and supply boats. There was also the potential for port development.
“Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s there was a lot of work done off the west coast. The oil companies always said there was a lot of dry wells but the Irish rig workers argued this was not the case,” explains Padhraig Campbell. “The companies strategy was to cut the best deal and terms and to give the impression that they were nearly doing us a favour even to carry out exploration,”
He says there was a growing awareness throughout the industry that an area from south Kerry, up along the west coast, and on to the west coast of Scotland was a major new frontier. It is called the Western Atlantic Margin.
During this mini exploration boom many wells were drilled by such industry giants as Deminex, Shell, Texaco, Exon, Total, Chevron. The ports of Foynes (Limerick), Feenit (Kerry), Galway and Cork were used as services bases. Earlier the two production platforms, Alpha and Brava for the Kinsale field, were built here and provided a lot of employment at the time.
“Then throughout the 80s there was a slump worldwide in oil and gas exploration. Yet the oil companies here peddled the line that the reason there was no exploration was due to the tax routes introduced by Labour Minister Justin Keating,” says Campbell.
Ironically, the terms – which dictated that the oil companies had to relinquish half the well back to Ireland – were introduced in 1975 by Keating after much lobbying by the present Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore and Minsiter for Energy, Pat Rabbitte, who were both trade union activists then and part of the Resources Protection Campaign.

Political pressure
OF course, the oil companies did not want these terms and over the following years put pressure on certain politicians to implement a more favourable arrangement. Subsequently, in 1987, Minister Ray Burke scrapped the State’s automatic share and royalties of 50 per cent. And then in 1992 the tax rate for profits was reduced from 50 per cent to 25 per cent by Bertie Ahern and Progressive Democrat TD Bobby Molloy.
“Our deal nowadays is similar to many of the African dictatorships and allows the companies huge write-offs for just about everything,” Campbell observes. “The Corrib license was one of the first to be introduced under these favourable terms.”
The original consortium was made of of Enterprise Oil, Statoil and Marathon. Shell became the lead partner in 2002, buying out Enterprise Oil for a reported€5.7 billion and Canadian company Vermillion bought out Marathon’s 18.5 per cent stake in 2009.
Part of the 1992 deal also allowed the oil companies very long license – Frontier Licenses – which meant they could sit on this great big wealth.
“As they say in the industry, it doesn’t go bad in the ground.”
Campbell explains that while Foynes was the main port used for the early Corrib operation, there was a deliberate move not to use Irish rig workers because ‘they didn’t want a knowledgeable presence aboard’ but the union (SIPTU, formerly the ITGWU) succeeded in winning the case for the Irish workforce.
Labour Minister  of State at the Department of Energy, Emmet Stagg stopped Enterprise from moving their onshore service operations to the port of Ayr in Scotland but later Fianna Fáil’s Minister Michael Woods overturned this in 1998 while the port of Killybegs in Donegal was used on a partial basis.
“That was the end of using west coast ports, except for the occasional and partial use of Killybegs to this date,” says Campbell. He cites the fact that in the Grampian and Aberdeen region of Scotland the oil companies have contributed €220 billion to the local economy since the mid-1970s. For every person on a rig, there are 12 offshore jobs to back this up.

Atlantic not hostile
HE also rubbishes arguments that the marine environment off the west coast is too hostile for this kind of development.
“There is a bigger swell out in the Atlantic than in the North Sea but the Norwegians have become masters of the technology for deep water exploration and production. Back in the early years the American companies applied standards that were used in the Gulf of Mexico which were not suitable for the Atlantic.”
Campbell cites a recent article in The Mayo News where Erris county councillor, Gerry Coyle criticises the fact that Bord Gáis does not deem Belmullet viable for connection to its natural gas system.
Cllr Coyle said at a county council meeting: “Belmullet is without gas when it is 7km away from  Bellanaboy and yet we can get gas pumped all the way from Siberia. What plans have Bord Gáis to bring the gas 7km to Belmullet. I know there are criteria laid down but surely to God with yourselves (Bord Gáis) and the Corrib Gas Partners it is not too much to ask to bring a 7km pipe to Belmullet.”
Campbell says: “The reality is that the potential dividends of this spur is comparable to a pensioner cycling home, on his High Nelly, after he collects his pension, with a Kosangas cylinder on the back of his bicycle. What will Belmullet get from one gas spur? Possibly one advance factory.”
He claims that the Bord Gáis network was brought to towns in Mayo for political reasons and that the gas flowing into Westport and Castlebar is not being used and flowing back.
The real jobs, the real economic benefits, are in the goods and services industry for an offshore exploration network.

Kenny call

“I CALL on Enda Kenny, as Taoiseach and a Mayo man, to create the political will to ensure a native gas and oil industry is developed. It would lead to offshore shipping, engineering works, IT facilities, training, infrastructural development, administrations, catering.”
He refers to the government commissioned INDECON report which estimated conservatively that there was €10 billion oil gas equivalent off the west coast of Ireland.
Campbell calls on the government to emulate the Norwegian model and establish a Directorate independent of civil servants and politicians. He also argues government must reexamine the terms and conditions and return to the Justin Keating principles.
“Instead of going to the loan sharks of the world to prop up our economy, we must go to the Norwegians and ask them for part of their €600 billion oil fund they have for investment and development projects around the world.”
Padhraig Campbell believes that future generations of Irish people would remember this move as a defining moment in the legacy of a Mayo Taoiseach.

Elsewhere on mayonews.ie
Dáil debates potential ‘bonanza’ from offshore resources