Rockall dispute returns with UK grant for oil exploration
IT's an uninhabited granite rock in the North Atlantic, but Rockall may be part of a new dispute over who governs it after the British Government handed out a grant to explore for oil around the islet.
Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Iceland all have claims over Rockall, which is about 270 miles off the Donegal coast.
Now the British Government has awarded Aberdeen University a grant of £250,000 to explore around the islet for hydrocarbons. The grant has been made as part of UK's Oil and Gas Authority's £20m programme to aid exploration of the continental shelf around the UK.
The grant isn't for drilling wells around Rockall. Instead it will be used to interpret and improve seismic and geological data for the area that is already publicly available.
It is hoped that it might be used by smaller exploration firms which may not have the resources to gather and interpret this data themselves.
Aberdeen University's Dr Nick Schofield told Scottish television broadcaster STV that Rockall "remains a truly frontier area of hydrocarbon exploration in the UKCS".
Dr Schofield added: "It is a geologically challenging area but decoding the geology and petroleum system is what makes it exciting to work on.
"The grant from the Oil and Gas Authority will support research that will fully evaluate the potential for hydrocarbon prospectivity in Rockall.
"The funding will allow us to apply the innovative knowledge and science we have developed in other areas of the Atlantic Margin to Rockall, and we are grateful to OGA and the UK government for their support," he said.
The UK has long laid claim to Rockall. After a temporary landing on the island in 1955 it claimed the rock, apparently to prevent Soviet Union submarines from spying on UK missile tests.
Ireland has never recognised that claim.
Ireland has periodically used the Navy to stake its claim for the island. In 2012 the LÉ Róisín exercised a "showing the flag" patrol around the rock.
While Rockall itself is tiny, it is reputed to sit on large oil and gas reserves, potentially worth millions.
However, given the difficulty of accessing the area and the low oil price at present, there is little chance of the oil being extracted in the short term.
A Government spokesman had not responded by the time of going to press.