The story of oil in Ireland
Motor vehicles and paraffin lighting became popular at the turn of the 20th century leading to oil depots being set up around the country. The first kerb side petrol pump was introduced in 1920 but it was not until after the Second World War that rapid growth in car ownership led to considerable growth in demand for oil for transport. Today, almost half of Ireland’s total energy use (47%) is comprised of oil imports, 70% of which is to fuel the transport sector, the rest being used to heat residential homes, particularly in rural areas, or by industry. Ireland imports all of its oil requirements either in the form of crude oil (37% of oil imports in 2014), refined at Ireland’s only crude oil refinery, Whitegate in Country Cork, or as refined products such as petrol, diesel or kerosene. There is a growing recognition that continued over-reliance on oil leaves us vulnerable to supply disruptions arising from geopolitical tensions, variability in price, investment uncertainty, and carbon emissions. For instance, diversification away from oil in the electricity and heat sectors occurred during the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, the first oil crisis in 1973, and again in 1978. Combined with mounting concern over carbon emissions from fuel combustion, a gradual shift away from dependency on oil in the transport sector is expected. Alternatives include biofuels, electric vehicles, fuel cells, compressed natural gas (CNG), or biogas. Ireland has a target for 10% of transport to come from renewable sources by 2020, however, it is increasingly unlikely that Ireland will achieve this target by 2020.
Crude oil is the source of the wide range of refined products used in Ireland. These include LPG (propane and butane), petrol, kerosene, aviation fuel, various grades of gas oil and heavy fuel oil. Some overseas refineries produce bitumen and lubricating oils but these products, as well as aviation kerosene for air travel, are not produced in Ireland and are imported.
Ireland imports all of its oil requirements: some in the form of crude oil for refining and the balance in the form of finished petroleum products. In 2014 around 35% of Ireland’s demand for road transport fuels (petrol and diesel and LPG) and home heating oil combined (LPG, kerosene and gas oil) was met with products refined from imported crude oil at Whitegate refinery in Cork Harbour.
Historically, large commercial users of heavy fuel oil (HFO) like ESB imported fuel oil directly to satisfy their own requirements for power generation at stations like Tarbert, Great Island and Poolbeg. At these power stations the ESB had constructed their own jetties and storage tanks to facilitate direct fuel oil imports. However in recent years the use of HFO has been phased out for power generation and replaced by natural gas in cleaner and more efficient power stations. Some of the oil facilities at the former oil fired power stations are now used as strategic oil storage locations.
The majority of oil use in Ireland in 2014 was used in the transport sector, with significant quantities of petroleum products also used for heating in residential and commercial building where fuels such as LPG, kerosene and gas oil are used.