Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Oil and Gas Deposits.

8.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce whether any detailed information is available to his Department regarding the volume of oil and gas found off the Irish coast; and if any assessment has been made regarding the cost of developing this source of energy.

Under the terms of prospecting and exploration licences and petroleum leases, full information regarding the progress of operations and results therefrom must be furnished to my Department by the licensees and lessees. Such information has been furnished both in regard to the natural gas find off Kinsale Head reported some time ago and also to the shows of oil encountered in the same general area concerning which a statement was recently issued by the company holding the licence.

The Kinsale Head structure is the only commercial discovery to date. As already indicated on a number of occasions, the field is estimated to contain reserves of the order of one million million cubic feet of gas. Detailed estimates of the cost of developing this find are not yet available from the company.

Can the Minister visualise a situation in which the State would have the resources necessary to develop this source of energy?

That is a hypothetical question. I do not visualise a situation in which the State would have the resources alone. It is possible to visualise a situation in future in which the State would participate.

Is the Minister satisfied that the figures he is being given about the finds are accurate and that they comply in their presentation with the request from his Department?

I recognise that a doubt exists on this matter and that it is widely believed that, to put it bluntly, we are being hoodwinked and that the Geological Survey Office are being hoodwinked. In the light of my knowledge that this belief exists, I have personally investigated it. I have talked to the director of the GSO. I have seen some of the immediate logs and things like that, and the information which is available to him and to his experts. I say this in fairness to the company: I am satisfied that the proper information is being furnished to the State and that we are not being hoodwinked.

Is the Minister satisfied that the quantities stated by the company are the actual quantities they have discovered?

Any estimate of quantities is necessarily no better than an estimate. It is a plus or minus 20 per cent sort of thing, or maybe plus or minus more than that.

Even 20 per cent.

In the circumstances, companies are cautious and prudent and, if anything, would underestimate. They would distinguish between what they have hard evidence of and their own guess. I do not know what their guess is and I am not certain that I want to know what their guess is. I have the hard evidence they have and I am satisfied that they are not holding out on us.

Has the Minister any plans to send an expert supervisor on to these rigs to ensure that the information being accumulated is the information which eventually arrives at the Department?

I can assure the Deputy and the House that it is not a matter of plans; it is a matter of practice. We have people visiting the rigs not on a continuous basis but on a drop-in basis to see that it is being done correctly.

Is the Minister satisfied that there are enough qualified expert staff to assess the information which comes to his Department?

In my Department, no, but in the agencies available to me, including consultancies and specialist agencies, yes.

What agencies?

The GSO is one. The IIRS is another, and employed consultants are another. All of these are sources of expert information. I am not satisfied that we should continue indefinitely with the present level of staff. There is need for expansion. I have not experienced any sense that we did not have enough expert advice to interpret information available to us and to take proper decisions in regard to the future.