ONE of the biggest oil companies in the world will begin drilling off the south-west coast later this month, in one of the most hotly anticipated events in the Irish oil and gas industry.
ExxonMobil has signed up the massive Eirik Raude drilling rig and is having it moved into position at the Dunquin Prospect.
Dunquin has long been considered as having the potential to be the most lucrative oil field offshore Ireland. It is situated in the Porcupine Basin, about 150km west of Kerry.
Exxon's move will have huge ramifications for Providence Resources, which has about 16pc of the Dunquin Prospect. Dunquin was seen as the jewel in Providence's crown for many years until the company found an estimated 1.3 billion barrels of oil at Barryroe off the Cork coast.
A spokesman for Exxon confirmed the drilling rig was now under contract in preparation for well operations.
"We expect to drill the well during the first half of 2013. The drilling rig is expected to be on location for several months," he said. "We look forward to working with the Irish authorities to complete this project in a safe and timely manner. ExxonMobil and its co-venturers value the efforts of the Irish Government and regulatory authorities to support the progress of the Dunquin exploration programme."
The US firm has been the operator of the Dunquin licence since 2008, and hold a 27.5pc stake in the site. As well as Providence's 16pc stake, Italy's Eni has 27.5pc, while Spain's Repsol owns 25pc. UK firm Sosina holds a 4pc stake.