"The Minister [Pat Rabbitte], I think, has done a very good job, and he has come out supporting the industry, in a way that other Ministers haven't in the past. And I think that's to his credit."
WITH JUST a week to go until the public consultation closes on an application for oil and gas exploration off the Dublin coast, locals are grappling with the potential risks and benefits of such a development.
Dublin-based Providence Resources has applied for a foreshore licence to search for oil or gas about 6km out to sea off Dalkey island on the Kish Bank Basin.
The licence would involve a two-week seismic survey and subsequent drilling of a single exploration well over one or two months. The company said it was at a “relatively early stage” and if oil or gas were discovered it would need further licencing.
The vast majority of some 300 people at a meeting in Dalkey on Monday night, including Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, supported a call for a public inquiry into the licence before it is granted.
Many concerns focus on the potential destruction of an oil spill should oil eventually be discovered and extracted.
However the impact of the initial exploration on wildlife and fish stocks pose a more immediate worry for some local people.
“This is a huge threat to us,” said commercial fisherman Ivan Tool, who operates out of Dún Laoghaire harvesting lobsters and whelks. The proposed exploratory drill would be in one of the main areas where he operates, which is a feeding and breeding ground for whelks, he said. He fears the sonar from the two-week seismic survey would hugely reduce shellfish in the area for many months. If oil were ever exploited and there was a spillage he fears it would destroy the local industry.
Dalkey resident and wildlife consultant Brian Porter, who previously surveyed birds on the Kish Basin, said he worried about the potential disturbance of the exploration to the area where important species of birds breed and feed. His greatest concern was the risk of a spill if oil were ever exploited but he was less concerned for wildlife in the case of a gas find.
Birdwatch Ireland has called for a more robust assessment of the impact of the exploration on birds. In its submission to the public consultation it pointed to a lack of consideration by the company of requirements for key species in the nearby special protection area.
The threat of injury and confusion the high-frequency seismic survey could cause to seals and dolphins was raised by Dalkey resident and mammalogist Fergus O’Gorman, also a former government scientific adviser.
The company said an environmental area assessment for the drilling and an environmental risk assessment for the seismic operations had been prepared while “rigorous environmental and health and safety standards” were part of its ethos.
There was concern locally that the issue could divide the community, architect Bill Hastings, who chaired the information meeting in Dalkey on Monday said.
Many people pointed out that it was not just a Dalkey issue but one for all of Dublin Bay, he said.
Activist Maura Harrington of the Corrib Shell to Sea campaign warned locals on Monday to “set aside any notion of naivety” when it came to oil companies.
Protect Our Coast, a group which has organised a petition against the licence is worried about the discovery of oil or gas.
Even a minor oil spill would have a serious effect on marine life, while gas extraction would raise the issue of bringing a pipeline into a highly populated region, it said in a statement.
Some locals see potential economic benefits in the discovery of oil or gas but there are fears about the potential threat to leisure and tourism.
Jeweller Don McManus, who chairs the Dún Laoghaire Business Association said his personal view was that such a find could be good for morale and a boost for the business community.
Go Sailing, which runs sailing trips from Dún Laoghaire into Dublin Bay, said it was in favour of sustainable employment but raised concern about oil exploration in the middle of what should be a special area of conservation.
Providence said it had met a range of interested parties in the area and was encouraging people to take part in the public consultation.
Details of the application can be found at iti.ms/wtd9Ax