"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
PROVIDENCE Resources, the oil and gas exploration company, expects to resume drilling off Ireland in the near future, chief executive Tony O'Reilly said at the explorer's annual meeting in Dublin yesterday.
Providence hinted that it would soon announce drilling at fields in Irish waters such as Spanish Point, Kinsale, Dunquin, Dalkey Island or Dragon.
"That's particularly exciting for shareholders," Mr O'Reilly said yesterday. He was particularly bullish about the long-term prospects for Spanish Point off Galway. "This sleeping giant is awakening," he said.
Providence is returning to its original focus on exploring and developing fields in Ireland although it retains interests in the US, UK and Africa.
To retain this focus among management, separate companies which are owned by Providence have been created to seek joint ventures to exploit demand for gas storage and oil which has been extracted from existing wells using unconventional technology.
"We've steadied the ship," Mr O'Reilly told shareholders after a year which saw hurricanes damage rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and a decision to end plans to store gas in Kinsale.
"We've gone through an incredible 18 months. Ireland has. People have and the company has," Mr O'Reilly added.
Providence, which saw net losses narrow to €9.8m last year from €51.2m the previous year, was getting closer to making a profit, Mr O'Reilly said.
"The wait is over, or nearly," he said. "I have a couple of larger shareholders, like the old man, who give me an earful," he joked to shareholders who complained about the fact that shares have not moved much in recent years. Mr O'Reilly's father, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, owns 34pc of the company.
The company may sell a stake in an oil field off Nigeria and has "had a few sniffs" from rivals interested in buying the field but deals are taking a lot longer than a year ago, Mr O'Reilly cautioned.
Shareholders voted in favour of a measure to increase the cost of individual shares 100-fold in a reverse share split.
Shares in Providence will trade at the new price from today.
The explorer has around 7,000 shareholders who have stakes worth less than €10 and some of these stakes will disappear with the proceeds going to charity.
The move is aimed at saving money and increasing the stock's attractiveness among fund managers who often ignore so-called penny stocks, Mr O'Reilly said. Providence will almost halve the number of shareholders following the vote.
- Thomas Molloy