Understanding the dynamics and conflicts of hydrocarbon management

Gas and oil are pivotal to the functioning of modern societies, yet the ownership, control, production and consumption of hydrocarbons often provokes intense disputes with serious social, economic, and political ramifications. In Gas, Oil and the Irish State, Amanda Slevin examines the dynamics and conflicts of state hydrocarbon management and provides the first comprehensive study of the Irish model. Interpreting the Corrib gas conflict as a microcosm of the Irish state’s approach to hydrocarbon management, Slevin articulates environmental, health and safety concerns which underpin community resistance to the project. She emphasises how the dispute exposed broader issues, such as the privatisation of Irish hydrocarbons in exchange for one of the lowest rates of government take in the world, and served to problematise how the state functions, its close relationship with capital, and its deployment of coercive force to repress dissent. Analysis of these issues occurs within an original account of decision-making and policy formation around Irish hydrocarbons from 1957 to 2014. Slevin traces the development of the state’s approach in tandem with occurrences in Irish political economy and examines the impact of global trends on different approaches to hydrocarbon management. A detailed case study of Norway reveals ideological, political, social and economic forces which influence how states manage their hydrocarbons and the author uses those factors as the basis for a rigorous critique of the Irish model. Examining subjects that are simultaneously empirical and ideological, historical and current, the focus of this book extends beyond decision-making processes within the state system to their impacts on people’s lives in communities. Slevin uncovers the social, environmental, economic, and political consequences of current policies and offers a blueprint for an alternative framework for hydrocarbon management.

9 Understanding the Irish state’s approach Nearly every country in the world has asserted ownership over the hydrocarbons within its territory (Easo, 2009) and Ireland is no different. Ireland’s approach to resource management, however, is dissimilar to many other countries with outcomes that include the transfer of ownership and control of state resources to private interests and one of the lowest rates of government take in the world. The Irish model has also resulted in a prolonged conflict which has engulfed the lives of many people for over a decade. In

in Gas, oil and the Irish state
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Corrib gas conflict, revealing the environmental, health and safety concerns initially underpinning resistance. It also highlights how the dispute exposed wider issues surrounding the Irish state’s management of its gas and oil. Problematic elements of the state’s approach include the transfer of control and ownership of state owned hydrocarbons to private companies; lenient fiscal terms which result in minimal economic returns to the Irish state; and the use of state and private actor coercive force against citizens. As a microcosm of the Irish state’s approach to the

in Gas, oil and the Irish state

the functioning of the Irish state and society. As discussed in the preceding chapter, social hegemony or consent within society is constructed through civil society with institutions such as education, social welfare, parliament and the legal system pivotal to consent formation. Intellectuals, in the Gramscian sense, play a key role by espousing the dominant ideas and values of their social group, with those in influential positions in Irish society tending to perpetuate the interests of the ruling class (those who control capital). One seemingly subtle endeavour

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Towards a new model for Ireland

trends in resource management, involving study visits to locations as dissimilar as back roads in west Mayo, Dáil Éireann and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, this book has examined how and why the Irish state developed its model of hydrocarbon management. Conflicts and contradictions inherent to the state’s approach reflect the dynamics of states functioning within capitalism. Imbued with neoliberal ideology, the Irish state enjoys a symbiotic relationship with capital and state power is simultaneously minimised and maximised to maintain a capitalist mode of

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The early days of the Irish regime (1957–75)

industry. However, ‘the [Irish] state never thought that it had any oil or gas so [when] a bunch of Americans turned up and said “we’d like a licence for oil and gas”, they [the state] didn’t have a clue’ (Peter, CEO of an oil company). Learning about ‘the obtaining of foreign concessions and what the terms might be’ took time as the necessary systems did not exist (Collins, 1977, p. 9). On one hand, the state’s lack of a licensing system was connected to an absence of interest in hydrocarbon exploitation; while on the other, opportunities for foreign companies to invest

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Too different to compare?

in the Dáil with substantial media coverage on the subject, particularly The Irish Times. When the JCCNRA began to review Irish state hydrocarbon management in September 2011, Ken (a Fianna Fáil TD) said he’d advised the Committee’s Chairman ‘we should bring in the Norwegians’. Consequently, the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland and an Assistant Director in the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) played a key role in the JCCNRA deliberations with the resulting report containing a section on the Norwegian model. Given the historical and contemporary relevance of

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venture, even though the potential rewards could be significant. In Ken’s opinion, this was quite unlike the early days of the Irish state when ‘state entrepreneurs’ took chances to establish and develop state companies such as Bord na Mona (the peat board), the Sugar Company and Aer Lingus (the country’s first airline),with civil servants and politicians taking risks to build indigenous capacity, knowledge, technology and industry. 66 History of Ireland’s oil and gas experience Robert, a former INPC CEO, took a more black and white view on the INPC’s lack of

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, the Irish state played an integral role in this sea-based battle with the navy supporting Shell’s actions in the bay while the police force maintained a solid presence onshore. Despite his constitutional right to fish in the area, there were ‘seven navy boats in Ireland and you had three of them here for Shell. So you had 50 per cent of our naval defence forces and to me, to put the navy against its own citizens on the sea, to protect a multinational company like Shell is the same as putting … the army around your house’ (Joe, fisherman). Even when faced with armed

in Gas, oil and the Irish state

 think there was the general view that the state didn’t have an interest in it. As long as there was a refinery there, it didn’t matter who was running it. And there’s … a general move in the 80s or 90s, towards privatisation of state assets such as Eircom, the Irish Sugar and Aer Lingus and all that sort of stuff. From Robert’s comments, one can see a connection between wider trends in neoliberalism and Irish state policy – tendencies which were earlier manifested in the licensing regime. The privatisation of those infrastructural assets in 2000 signalled a decisive break

in Gas, oil and the Irish state