Written Answers. - Offshore Exploration.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

259 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the degree to which interest has increased or decreased in exploration in regard to on or offshore activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11101/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

260 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent if any to which he has had discussions with mining or exploration interests in regard to ongoing projects or future proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11102/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

261 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if there have been any positive indications arising from mining, oil or other mineral explorations in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11103/03]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 259, 260, and 261 together.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals, as the Deputy knows, exploration in this country is undertaken by holders of prospecting licences granted under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. New exploration is continuously undertaken as part of my requirements to holders of prospecting licences, of which there were 351 current at the end of January 2003. There were 391 licences current at the end of June 2002. My Department continues to be 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, given the depressed general global economic situation, and the base metals sector in particular.

No new economic deposits have been discovered in recent years. There have been some encouraging results, however. Exploration adjacent to existing base metal mines at Navan, County Meath – Tara Mines Limited – and Galmoy, County Kilkenny – Arcon Mines Limited – has discovered additional resources which have the potential to extend the life of those mines, and applications for additional State mining facilities for these are at present being dealt with in my Department. My officials have also had discussions with Irish Gypsum Limited regarding that company's plans to develop an underground extension to its existing operation in County Monaghan. A good zinc prospect area near Pallasgreen, County Limerick also has the potential to host an economic deposit and exploration is continuing.

With regard to petroleum, the last 12 months have seen a very steep decline in exploration activity in north-west Europe. In Ireland there are now only seven offshore exploration licences in place – down from a peak of 32 just five years ago. In addition, western offshore areas are difficult to access and explore, in terms of water depth, distance from land and lack of infrastructure. These define both the difficulties and the challenge that face both the Government and the industry.
I would point out that much of the Atlantic margin of our offshore is either untested or under-explored and every effort is being made to promote the exploration of these areas. Last November the Porcupine licensing initiative was launched by Minister of State at the Department of Communications the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne. Its purpose is to re-open the Porcupine region, closed since 1999, for exploration. The region will be opened for licensing in four tranches as it covers a large area, 241 full blocks. Some wells have been drilled there in the past but it still has real exploration potential. Regrettably there were no applications in relation to the first tranche which had a closing date of 15 March 2003.
The results from the Dooish well which was drilled off Donegal last year by Enterprise Energy Ireland also gives grounds for optimism. The company will carry out further appraisal of the well this year. My Department has long held that there is exploration potential within these frontier areas and these results further vindicate this view. An exploration well will be drilled in the Slyne-Erris basin in 2003 under a licence commitment.
Within the last 16 months, two petroleum leases, for the Corrib gas field and the Seven Heads gas field, have been signed. Production from Seven Heads is set to commence later this year and production from Corrib will depend on the outcome of the planning appeal which is at present being determined by An Bord Pleanála. In addition there will be a small satellite development, South West Kinsale Greensand, in the Kinsale gas field to access gas reserves that were not being drained effectively by the existing Kinsale gas field wells. The target date for gas production is July 2003.