Opposition grows to drilling rig off south Dublin coast

 

A DRILLING rig to establish the scale of oil and gas reserves off the Dublin coast is due to be in place within six months after the approval of an exploratory foreshore licence.

Dublin-based Providence Resources has said it plans to have the rig in place 6km off Dalkey Island on the Kish Bank Basin in the first few months of 2013.

As local objections mount to the plan, however, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore last night backed calls for a public inquiry into any future application by the developers.

“The licence is for a once-off exploratory drill,” the Dún Laoghaire TD stressed, adding if a commercial licence was sought at a future stage, “I would expect a public inquiry to be held”.

The granting of the licence by the Department of the Environment was criticised yesterday by conservationists and some local politicians. However, sections of the business community in Dún Laoghaire have welcomed the potential investment for the area.

An Taisce, one of the objectors to the plan, said it believed insufficient environmental assessments were carried out as part of the application. “This is the first time that a licence with potential major threats of pollution so close to the shoreline has been granted,” it said.

“Overall, the assessment of the potential impacts of this exploration and drilling licence were not adequately evaluated to ensure the protection of a number of species and habitats. The precautionary principle should have been applied until the concerns voiced by An Taisce and others were addressed.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the planned drill was too close to shore. He cited the example of Norway where “there is no drilling allowed within the foreshore”, or a distance of 25km from the coast.

Lobby group Protect Our Coast, which is planning to hold campaign meetings in the bay area in the coming weeks, said it was “shocked” by the decision, while the Green Party’s spokesman on planning, Tom Kivlehan, called on Mr Gilmore “to use his influence at Cabinet to set up a public inquiry into the proposed drilling”.

However, Don McManus, who chairs the Dún Laoghaire Business Association, said he believed “there is an awful lot of scaremongering” about the issue.

“I don’t think we have a right as citizens not to pursue this to the nth degree. It would be commercial suicide as a country to turn our backs on this at a time when we are importing fuel all the way from Russia.”

While the issue has sparked heated debate in the port town, and most of the 700 submissions made on the licence had been objections, Mr McManus said he had experienced “no backlash” over his stance. “We find some of the politicians utilise issues as a soap box and maybe would not have the heart and soul of the people at the core of their objections,” Mr McManus added.

Providence said it was now in the process of procuring a survey vessel that will map a seabed area of 3sq km. This process is due to take about 15 days.

The rig will then be built, allowing for exploratory drilling over 30-60 days. The precise scale of the rig has yet to be revealed but, based on international comparisons, it would be at least 200ft high.

The firm says drilling will reach a depth of 5,000-11,000ft, with the cuttings to be discharged at the seabed, something fishermen fear may disturb local habitats.

If oil or gas reserves are found, an application for a commercial licence will have to be made. While the company has not ruled out building a pipeline in that scenario, it may opt instead for shipping any reserves away by tanker.

Providence has in recent weeks spoken to local yacht clubs, scuba diving clubs and other community groups about its plans, and a spokesman said it remained “open to approaches” to discuss the project further. A 500m safety zone is to be set up around the rig.

Dalkey is one of six Irish locations being explored by Providence with partner companies as part of what it says is an investment of up to $500 million. The most advanced of these, Barryroe, off Co Cork, was identified earlier this year as commercially viable.