The Government has offered Shell a 16-year licence to drill for oil and gas off the Co Donegal coast, it emerged today.
Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey said that Shell E&P Ireland had applied in May for exploration licences in the 1,650 square kilometre North East Rockall Basin.
Mr Dempsey’s officials studied the Shell application and decided to offer the firm the licence but it has not accepted it to date.
Shell and another exploration company, Island Oil and Gas plc submitted applications within the May 31st deadline for the licences and the minister made them offers on July 20.
Island Oil and Gas plc has already accepted the offer to begin exploration in the Rockall Basin 100km off the Co Donegal coast.
Shell is currently in dispute with residents of Rossport Co Mayo over a proposed inshore gas refinery pipeline passing near their homes.
Five local men will spend their 50th day in Dublin’s Cloverhill Prison tomorrow for contempt of court by blocking construction work on the project.
Mr Dempsey’s spokesman said: “The total area of the East Rockall Basin is 15,800 square kilometres and is classified as frontier because of its deep water and challenging environment.
“Following a careful assessment by the department, which considered the work programmes offered, the applicants’ experience and their technical and financial competencies, offers were made on 20th July to both applicants,” a department spokesman said.
The licences have a maximum duration of 16 years and will comprise four phases each.
The Natural Resources Department is still accepting licensing applications for the Slyne/Erris/Donegal Licensing Round off the north west coast.
The closing date for applications under this round is March 2006.