Friday 23 March 2018

Firms rush to search for oil and gas in Irish waters

Communications and Energy Minister Pat
Communications and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte

Thomas Molloy

THE Government has received 15 applications to look for oil and gas in Irish waters after the previous administration introduced new rules aimed at making Ireland more attractive to the world's exploration companies, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said yesterday.

"This is the largest number of applications ever received in a single licensing round," the minister said at the opening of a two-day conference on energy issues. The deadline for applications ended on Tuesday evening.

Companies not currently active in Irish waters have made applications along with companies that are active, the minister added. He did not name the companies whose applications must now be assessed by civil servants before licenses can be awarded.

Companies looking for oil and gas off Ireland have struggled to find commercial quantities so far. But geologists believe there are large deposits that are now accessible thanks to new technologies and rising prices, which make it worth while to extract oil far below the sea floor.

Providence Resources, a Dublin and London-listed company, embarked on the biggest-ever exploration programme in Irish history earlier this year in the hope of finding viable oil fields off several parts of the country including Dublin, Wexford, Kerry and Galway.

Mr Rabbitte backed the Corrib gas field, which has been delayed by a series of planning disputes but could one day produce 60pc of Irish gas needs.

Despite the gas field's strategic importance, Corrib has been cold shouldered by successive ministers for fear of upsetting residents in Mayo, who fear the pipe bringing the gas ashore is not safe.

"I look forward to the completion of the remaining elements of the construction phase of the project and to the commencement of the production of gas," Mr Rabbitte said.

He appeared to rule out the sale of Bord Gais and the ESB, saying that "the State must continue to have a strong and direct presence in generation, networks and supply".

The International Monetary Fund and the European Union want the Government to raise €2bn through the sale of State assets. Few assets are worth anything close to this, provoking speculation that the Government may sell either of the utilities to raise funds.

Mr Rabbitte said the country remains too dependent on just a few sources of energy but this will not change anytime soon.

"The current reality is that we are heavily dependent on a single source of gas supply and our electrical interconnection is still limited. We are also heavily reliant on gas for the generation of electricity -- a reliance that is set to remain for some time as gas is the fuel of choice while we we build our renewable capacity."

Projects such as the North-South electricity link from Meath to Tyrone are key strategic projects for economies north and south of the border and the lack of an inter connector costs between €20m and €30m a year, he added.

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