Other Questions. - Onshore Exploration Licences.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

6 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources his Department's assessment of the onshore test drilling programme during the coming months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17407/01]

Two onshore licensing options are currently held by Priority Oil and Gas, an American-based company, over an area in the north west carboniferous basin. The licensed area comprises lands in Counties Cavan, Leitrim, Monaghan, Roscommon and Sligo and straddles the border with County Fermanagh. The company recently applied to my Department for approval to assign its entire interests in the options to Evergreen Resources Inc., which is also American based. The application is being processed by my Department.

The options are due to expire at the end of this month. An option gives the holder first right to an exploration licence over the area. I understand that when the assignment of the options has been completed, Evergreen Resources intends to apply for an onshore exploration licence and, subject to approval, intend to drill at least one well in the near future. Evergreen Resources has indicated to my Department and recently announced its intention, as the Deputy may be aware, to drill up to five wells in the north west, four shallower wells in the North of Ireland and one deeper well in the Republic over the summer and early autumn.

At this stage there are no definite proposals for the drilling of the onshore well. In the event of an application by Evergreen for an onshore exploration licence it will be necessary for the company to submit a proposed work programme, which would include the drilling of a well, for approval by my Department.

Does the Minister agree with the pessimistic view of Pat Boyle in his article of 17 May 2001 when he said Enterprise's latest dry hole in the Rockall Basin does not augur well for the—

It is not in order to quote from newspapers.

The article goes on to refer to a one in 60 success rate, which is very low by international standards. Does the Minister share that optimism in view of the fact that a new round is to commence or is he more hopeful than the pessimistic outlook, which might indicate a negotiating position on behalf of the Department with these companies?

The Deputy is referring to a totally different well when he mentions Enterprise, which is an offshore well off the Donegal coast. This question relates to exploration in Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo. The well to which the Deputy referred was plugged and found to be dry. That is simply bad news for everyone.