Written Answers. - Prospecting Licences.

Bernard J. Durkan


52 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the results of all oil, gas and or other mineral explorations in the past 12 months; the extent to which any or all of these are commercially viable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17605/01]

As I mentioned in my reply of 8 May to a similar question raised by the Deputy there were developments in relation to the Corrib gas accumulation.

Enterprise Energy Ireland declared the Corrib gas field commercial in January this year on behalf of its co-venturers, Statoil and Marathon, and have applied to me for a lease for its development and it is expected that the lease will be issued in the near future. Enterprise Energy Ireland has plans to bring the gas ashore by October 2003 and expects the field to be in production for about 15 years.

Only one exploration well has been completed offshore Ireland in the past 12 months, where Enterprise Energy Ireland Limited drilled an exploration well last April in the Rockall trough. The well was unsuccessful and has now been plugged and abandoned. Two exploration wells are currently in progress. Statoil commenced drilling an exploration well in the Porcupine Basin last month and drilling is ongoing. An application by EDC, Europe, Limited to drill an exploration well in the Fastnet Basin has been approved by my Department and drilling will commence within the next few days.
As regards non-petroleum minerals exploration, no new finds have been reported to me since I last answered a question on this subject on 4 May 2001, ref. no. 13028/01. The State itself does not carry out prospecting. In setting and agreeing the exploration programme under any licence, I ensure that the licence is awarded to the candidate proposing the most advantageous programme. By monitoring the reports of licence holders and site visits, I ensure that the terms of the commitment are met in each case, that we are immediately aware of finding any significant mineralisation and that there is a suitably aggressive pursuit of any positive results. I am pleased that recent work has identified three new zinc prospects in counties Laois, Limerick and Wicklow, which are being followed up. Should any of these prove to be economically viable this will be evidenced to me by an application for a State mining facility. Such an application would be made in parallel with applications to the relevant local authority for planning permission under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts and to the EPA for an integrated pollution control licence.
It is gratifying that we have not only maintained but increased in real terms our share of world exploration funding for non-petroleum minerals in the context of a major global cutback over the past three years. The most recent report that I laid before the Houses under the Minerals Development Acts showed that at the end of December 2000 there were 480 prospecting licences being operated. The number of licences has increased over the past three years. We are actively engaged in promoting investment interest in minerals exploration from overseas companies, in order to keep the level of exploration in the country as high as possible. The success of earlier exploration work and prospect of finding further commercial orebodies encourages the market to concentrate on exploration for certain suites of minerals and de-emphasise others.
As part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the continuing attractiveness of Ireland, my Department is continuing its comparative study of international royalty and tax regimes. We are at present examining the preliminary results of that study. That examination and the further study results will inform policy decisions in the future and allow us to maintain our competitive status.
Field work under existing licences had been hampered over recent months by the precautions to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. The restriction is being eased gradually as it is deemed prudent and on the advice of the expert group set up by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. While most restrictions have now been relaxed it is still necessary to observe care and hygiene when entering on farmlands. I am pleased at the way those involved in the industry have taken the necessary precautions.