"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
THE long delay in bringing the Corrib gas field into production has led to a "lack of interest" from companies willing to invest in oil and gas exploration.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) yesterday warned that despite the potential for other finds off our coastline, the delays in completing the Corrib project had resulted in companies looking elsewhere.
About 10 billion barrels of oil, or its gas equivalent, are believed to be present in Irish territorial waters.
Several multinational companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Statoil, are licensed to explore the Atlantic coast and at $85 (€70) a barrel, the natural resource could be worth billions to the State.
The IEA said Ireland was facing an energy crisis unless it could wean itself off imported fossil fuels, ramp up production in renewable energy and use indigenous supplies.
"There has been little successful oil and gas exploration in Ireland to date and there are large areas that are unexplored... the high dependence on imports of fossil fuels makes further exploration for oil and gas particularly attractive," the 'Ireland 2012 Energy Review' report said.
However, it continued: "Of particular concern is the Corrib field, which has yet to come on stream, despite having all the necessary authorisations.
"The uncertainty surrounding the delay in the Corrib field development may to some degree be contributing to the lack of interest of companies in exploring Ireland's offshore potential."
First discovered in 1996, the Corrib gas project has been mired with controversy amid safety concerns, public protests and long delays in the planning process.
Construction work on the final section of the pipeline is expected to begin at the end of this year and the project will cost €3bn to deliver.
A spokesman for Shell E&P Ireland said it expected gas to start flowing at the end of 2014 or early 2015.
The IEA report said gas from the Kinsale and Seven Heads fields was "in decline" and could end by 2014, and that Ireland had ramped up investment in renewables and new pipelines.
The report said the Government was correct for continuing to invest in wind power, which will help produce 40pc of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. More than 15pc already comes from wind farms, with 157 of these in operation.
- Paul Melia