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THE DEPARTMENT of Energy says new oil and gas exploration licences for the Atlantic margin will be approved before the resumption of the Dáil next month.
However, Fianna Fáil energy spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív has appealed to Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte to defer his endorsement until a promised review of the State’s current oil and gas licensing terms by an Oireachtas committee.
“Whatever Mr Rabbitte may feel about the suitability of the terms, the public perception now is that we are giving away a natural resource,” Mr Ó Cuív said.
“An Oireachtas committee debate will allow for full information and discussion by elected representatives.”
Some 15 applications were received by the department for the round, initiated by Fianna Fáil junior energy minister Conor Lenihan last year – the highest number of applications for any such round to date. The department has declined to release names of the applicants for “privacy reasons”, but has said evaluations will be completed this week.
The new licensing round will allow successful companies the first refusal on exploration licences over 250,000 sq km of the Atlantic shelf, an area about three times the size of the island of Ireland.
A 2006 study for the Department of Energy, published in 2007, estimated a total reserve potential of 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent for offshore frontier basins west of Ireland – worth €750 billion at recent prices of €75 a barrel.
During a debate last April on a Sinn Féin motion to amend the terms, Mr Rabbitte agreed to a proposal by Mr Ó Cuív to refer the issue to an Oireachtas committee.
However, he refused a Siptu request, also echoed by Mr Ó Cuív during the summer, for a moratorium on issuing licences until the review had been completed.
A position paper published by Siptu noted that the current licensing system transferred ownership of resources to the lease holders, and companies were not required to sell any oil or gas or both into the Irish market – but could sell at full market price.
Siptu has said that a revised fiscal system – such as a contractual system – would afford the State more return and more control, and could be used to pay for the transition to renewable energies.
Mr Rabbitte had “no response” to the Siptu report, according to his department.
He had said he would keep the terms “under review”, but his department’s focus was on attracting a “larger share of international exploration investment to Ireland to increase the chances of new commercial discoveries being made”.
Mr Rabbitte has pointed out that only four discoveries off the Irish coast had proved to be commercial to date, including the Corrib gas field.