The Government is set to announce details of a major research contract to assess Ireland’s true oil and gas potential in the coming weeks, with industry rumours suggesting Italian giant Eni could be signed up as project partner.
The project will focus on a seismic survey off the west coast, to judge the oil and gas reserve potential of the under-explored Atlantic Margin area.
While the provision of “relevant depth of seismic data”, formed part of the recommendations from last week’s Providence Resources/PwC study into the potential of the Irish offshore sector, this seismic tender has been in the Government’s plans for nearly a year.
There has been speculation that Eni could be signing up to invest around €70m in carrying out the study, but the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has been tight- lipped over the details.
A department spokesperson said that the procurement process has concluded and project planning is at an “advanced stage”. “It is anticipated that an announcement will be made shortly,” they added.
Minister of State at the Department, Fergus O’Dowd, first announced the intention to tender for a seismic data specialist to undertake the detailed survey last year, when addressing the Atlantic Ireland Conference in Dublin.
Speaking then, he said that such a survey would be “a huge step forward” and would go a long way to revealing the true potential of Ireland’s frontier basins.
The real genesis of the programme was the Government’s 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round, which attracted a positive response from industry but still resulted in large areas on offer receiving no applications, despite being located in basins containing proven petroleum systems.
A lack of available seismic data was viewed as a significant contributing factor that needed to be addressed, according to Government. The small number of exploration wells drilled in Irish waters, over the past decade, has been blamed on low levels of available intelligence, with poor seismic data coverage previously described by Government as “the biggest impediment to exploration”.
Last week’s PwC study into the potential of Ireland’s offshore exploration industry suggested that thousands of jobs could be created per year and the Exchequer could significantly increase its annual corporate tax take if certain existing barriers to entry, for overseas players, are removed.
“The oil and gas industry has the potential to transform local and national economies, but a critical mass of activity is needed before a substantial indigenous supply base can develop,” it said.
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