IRELAND faces the possibility of a natural gas shortage in the winter of 2009 if there are further delays to the controversial Corrib gas project, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has admitted.
The revelation comes as industry sources told the Sunday Tribune that its developer, Shell, needed "everything to go right for them" if it was to be commissioned during 2009.
Most now believe that the gas won't start flowing until 2010, given the project's long history of setbacks. The most recent of these came this month with the suspension of offshore pipelaying work after damage to the boat carrying out the work.
If this occurs, Ireland will be left with little headroom between gas supply and demand during 2009, according to the CER's official projections, raising the prospect of industrial users being cut off to conserve gas for homeowners.
Such a move could have a knock-on effect on electricity supplies as power stations are counted as large industrial users and would be among the first to be cut off. The country currently gets 55% of its power from natural gas.
Although the regulator insists that there will be no shortfall in supplies, it has admitted for the first time that gas supplies could be affected if the country was hit by a cold snap.
"In the extremely unlikely scenario of the coldest day in the coldest year for 50 years, and even then for a very short space of time (an hour at peak time) is there the potential for a very slight shortfall between supply and demand," said a spokesman.