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White told promotion of oil and gas exploration ‘a priority’

Steven Carroll - Irish Times

Rise in number of authorised explorations to lead to increased drilling levels over next two to five years

The promotion of oil and gas exploration and the development of a regulatory framework for such activity have been identified as priorities for new Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White.

Briefing documents prepared by the department for Mr White when he became Minister in the recent Cabinet reshuffle note that oil and gas exploration has been taking place around Ireland for almost half a century but the vast majority of the Irish offshore remains “very underexplored” with only four commercial gas discoveries made.

“The active promotion of opportunities for oil and gas offshore (and onshore) in Ireland and the development of and management of the associated regulatory framework to encourage effective and timely exploration are priorities,” they state.

The documents, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, note that “the low success rate plus time taken to bring first gas ashore from Corrib . . . have in the past acted as significant drags on exploration interest but there is new interest in the Irish offshore”.

Departmental initiatives and a promotion campaign to attract a “higher share of mobile international exploration investment to Ireland” have paid dividends, leading to an “upward swing in exploration momentum”, which has seen the number of authorised explorations rise to 43 – “the highest number ever”.

Increased drilling

“This in turn will lead to increased drilling levels over the next 2-5 years.”

A “critical action” for Mr White over the next six to 12 months will be to address a range of issues, including a consent-to-operate process before production can begin from the Corrib gas field.

They say “first gas” from the Corrib field is “estimated in June of next year”, but note that an application has yet to be made by Shell E&P Ireland Limited to bring the field into commercial production. Some material relating to Corrib was redacted as it was part of “a deliberative process”.

The department recently announced a new licensing round which will likely lead to further exploration off the coastlines from next year.

In other areas, Mr White, a former RTÉ employee, is advised that the broadcaster and An Post are “under growing financial pressure”due to the evolution of communications technology. The medium-term future of the State’s mail service is “very fragile”.

The introduction of a postcode system next year is likely to provide a stimulus to mail volumes through “improved direct marketing capabilities”.

Posted Date: 
17 August 2014