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Delay on Corrib 'has done quite a bit of damage'

Local politics are making us a liability in an industry where timing is all, says oil tycoon

Oil and gas explorer John Craven, who is on the cusp of selling Cove Energy for over €1bn, has hit out at the Irish Government for the extensive time delays with the Corrib gas project.

"The Corrib gas field delay doesn't do the image of Ireland any good, particularly when you have a country crying out for natural gas like Ireland is. I think the Government could do more to stimulate activity, to help it along and make the terms clearer and facilitate the Corrib development," said the veteran geologist.

The Corrib natural gas field off Mayo was discovered in 1996, but took until 2004 before development began and it has since been bogged down in planning objections and protests.

"You need good terms and to be able to make sure that if you find something you can develop it quickly. Timing is important," emphasised the Englishman, who was brought to Ireland by Gulf Oil in 1983 to explore for offshore oil and gas and who has since made Dublin his home.

"I think that Corrib, to the outside world, has done quite a bit of damage. I would take the view that it's hard enough to find something in the first place, and if you have to wait, time is very critical when you're doing economics in oil and particularly on gas. If you delay, the industry just loses patience," he says.

Cove Energy's strategy is to acquire and develop oil and gas opportunities, but Craven is also critical of successive Irish governments for being too conscious of local politics and not putting the national picture first when it comes to exploration.

"I would tell the Irish Government they have got to put the national interest first. Oil and gas resources are extremely important, so they have got to get it on stream quickly and show off our attractive geology with good terms, not weigh it down in bureaucracy," said the major oil and gas player, who lives in Sandymount, Dublin, with his Northern Irish wife and son.

He contrasts Corrib with the efficiency of how the Kinsale Head gas field was found in 1971, confirmed as commercially viable in record time and on stream by 1978.

"The perception of timing in Ireland doesn't help. In a lot of countries, you have strategic assets -- if politicians take the view that the asset is more important to the country than local politics, Corrib would have been done by now."

However, Shell was not without its faults, he admits. "They handled the public relations very badly and some of their design for bringing the gas ashore was poor initially, but you need a Government who are supportive and are going to make it happen regardless of local politics."

In the oil tycoon's opinion, Ireland needs to make its terms more attractive to encourage people to invest money and drill.

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This field is required

"The more you drill the more chance you have got, so the Irish Government need to create an environment where people are happy to come in and drill and to park the tax issue until people are on production, when there is something to tax," he continues.

The value of shares in exploration group Providence Resources increased last month after it announced it had found oil at its Barryroe oil field off the coast of Cork. Craven believes the Government now has an opportunity to get more sustained interest from outside parties.

"Providence have a prospect in Dalkey Bay -- the problem is that everyone was protesting as if they have already found oil and the chances of finding something are probably 10 to one. I'm a great believer in letting people find it and then worrying about it later. Better off waiting for it to come on stream and then assessing how much oil there is. Ireland has a tendency to kill things before they get off the ground, like Corrib. Get it on stream first," he said.

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