Entire Porcupine open to licensing


The Irish offshore exploration industry has welcomed a decision by the Minister for Communications and Natural Resources, Mr Ahern, to open up the entire Porcupine Basin for licensing.

The sea area off the west and south-west will be opened up in four tranches, with bids being accepted at near six-monthly intervals between March 2003 and October, 2004.

The Slyne, Erris, Donegal and Rockall basins will remain closed "for the present", Junior Marine Minister Mr John Browne said yesterday.

Mr Browne said that it was "vital" for the State to do everything in its power to "encourage and increase" the supply of energy from within its own frontiers.

"In recent years we have witnessed the decline in output from the Kinsale Head gas field, which has meant that the State has become over-dependent on imports to meet our growing energy requirement," Mr Browne said.

This marks the first time that the entire Porcupine Basin has been opened up for licensing; two licences were granted in the south Porcupine three years ago.

Mr Fergus Cahill, chairman of the Irish Offshore Operators' Association (IOAA), welcomed the move.

While there have been several "shows" of oil in the area,including one by Phillips in 1987/88 and the BP involvement in the Connemara field, there has been "nothing remotely showing commerciality", he said.

"We have had one exploration well this year, which has to be the worst year in a long time," Mr Cahill added. "But as the number of wells goes up, the statistical chance of finding something rises."

Mr Padhraig Campbell, of trade union SIPTU's offshore oil and gas committee, said that there was no point in the Government opening up new licensing bids until it changed the licensing terms, which were last revised in 1992.

"Exploration companies can take these licences for 20 years, sit on them, and if they do get any return they can bypass this State in terms of tax revenue, jobs and supply of services," he said.