Three onshore licensing options were granted in February 2011, two over parts of the North West Carboniferous (Lough Allen) Basin and one over parts of County Clare. These licensing options conferred upon the holders the first right, to apply for an exploration licence over the areas concerned. I can confirm that two of the three companies, (Tamboran Resources and Enegi) have submitted applications for a follow-on exploration licence. Assessment of these applications has not as yet commenced.
I have made it clear on a number of occasions that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme would be subject to an environmental impact assessment. I have also made clear that such an environmental impact assessment would be informed by the findings of further research to be commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that no decision would be made on any proposal for the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling in Ireland until there has been time to consider the outcome of this further EPA research.
The EPA recently announced the terms of reference for the more extensive second stage of its research into the use of hydraulic fracturing, the final results of which are expected in early 2015. The proposed terms of reference for this study are currently the subject of a Public Consultation and interested parties have until 8 March 2013 to submit written comments. In relation to the two applications received, my Department will shortly commence its evaluation, focussing on the technical rationale underpinning the applications, along with the corporate information provided. Where the outcome of this stage of the evaluation is positive, further consideration of the application will then be put on hold until after the findings of the new EPA research have been published.