I propose to take Question Nos. 35 and 36 together.
I am committed to facilitating the exploration and development of Ireland’s mineral, oil and gas resources with a view to maximising their contribution to Ireland’s society and economy, including the provision of employment, whilst having due regard to any potential environmental impact.
Exploration and development of mineral, oil or gas resources is by its very nature a high cost and high risk activity, best suited to private sector investment. The key to attracting such mobile investment is a facilitative regulatory regime and the availability of exploration data.
In respect of mineral resources, the State’s regulatory regime facilitates exploration and development through the grant of exclusive prospecting licences to permit the search for new commercial mineral deposits.
Availability of exploration data, free of charge and on-line, using geographical information systems, also assists in attracting mineral exploration investment.
There are currently 600 prospecting licences in operation. In addition there are three main operating mines and one mine in closure mode. Ireland has been successful in the past in bringing deposits into production and in 2012 exploration and mining in Ireland supported over 1,300 full-time equivalent jobs distributed across the regions.
My Department has been working on a new Minerals Development Bill, to update and consolidate legislation for the sector from the 1940s through to the 1990s in order to provide a new legislative regulatory framework fit for the 21st Century. Subject to other legislative priorities, I hope to be able to publish this Bill in the near future.
As regards oil and gas, it is important that the State provides the right environment to encourage private exploration investment.
This is achieved through a number of mechanisms, including:
- offering attractive and innovative licensing opportunities, such as the 2011 Atlantic Margin licensing round;
- providing a fit-for-purpose, transparent and robust regulatory regime;
- deepening knowledge of our offshore petroleum potential, in particular through data acquisition and supporting key research projects and;
- actively promoting the opportunity to invest in exploration in the Irish offshore, in particular to companies not currently active here.
The job creation potential of a successful commercial oil or gas find in the Irish offshore is evidenced by the Corrib Gas field find. For example, over 1,000 people were employed at the height of the construction phase of the Corrib gas terminal, and even today the project continues to provide both direct and indirect local employment opportunities in North Mayo. A more active exploration and production industry would also encourage the development of a range of support services, in particular around key port facilities, thus facilitating employment creation in these areas and in the wider economy.
In addition, through the Geological Survey of Ireland, I have recently established Geoscience Ireland. This is a business cluster, involving Enterprise Ireland, where nineteen companies active in the Geoscience service sector have come together to collaborate in winning work overseas and creating and sustaining employment.
To date the initiative has carried out a marketing study, built the dedicated website www.geoscience.ie, appointed a business development manager based at the Geological Survey of Ireland, and engaged in trade missions and sectoral studies. The 19 companies involved in the cluster have reported a growth in overall staff numbers since the initiative commenced of 84, to a total of 1,078.
In facilitating the exploration and development of Ireland’s mineral, oil and gas resources, with a view to enhancing employment prospects, both I and my Departmental officials meet with stakeholders and consider their views.