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Largest round of oil, gas licensing

Laura Slattery & Lorna Siggins - Irish Times

THE LARGEST round of oil and gas exploration licences to date has been announced by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR).

Minister of State for Natural Resources Conor Lenihan said the 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round was designed to boost the level of exploration investment off the Irish coast.

The process opens up Ireland’s entire Atlantic seabed for exploration, with the exception of existing licensed areas, rather than specific basins or blocks.

The licensing round breaks from the tradition of offering 15-year licences in which significant investment must be made within the initial years. Under the 2011 round, two-year licensing options will be on offer.

The department said this would allow companies to assess the potential of the area and would not require large up-front cash investment. A 15-year licence can then be secured, if desired.

The round will be the largest licensing round to date, covering an area of more than 250,000 sqkm, comprising 996 full blocks and 58 part blocks. The area on offer extends from about 30-380km from shore, with water depths typically ranging from 200m to over 3,000m.

The Irish Offshore Operators Association (IOOA) welcomed the move. “Hopefully, this will result in the realisation of the potential of the Irish Atlantic margin, resulting in development opportunities in the west of Ireland, increased employment, taxation revenue to the Government and security of energy supply,” said IOOA chairman Fergus Cahill.

Siptu’s offshore oil and gas committee called on Mr Lenihan to ensure “independent inspections” prior to drilling, in light of the BP Gulf of Mexico experience.