More companies are prospecting for gold, silver, zinc and lead than ever before across the country, new figures show.
According to the figures, provided by the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, the State is on course to issue a record amount of licences for mineral exploration this year against the background of high prices for minerals.
According to Pat Rabbitte, the minister for communications, energy and natural resources, his department has issued 59 licences in the year to Mar 5.
This compares to 98 issued in all of 2011 and if the current rate for 2012 is maintained, the full year figure will well out-strip the 143 licences issued in 2007.
According to Mr Rabbitte, the number of licences issued for 2010 was 93 and in 2009, the figure was 66 with 91 in 2008.
In a written Dáil response to Bernard Durkan TD (FG), Mr Rabbitte said there are 603 mineral prospecting licences currently held by 45 firms.
The IMC Exploration Corporation is currently prospecting for gold in Wexford and zinc in Clare.
Its chief executive, Glenn Millar said yesterday that “the amount of activity in the industry at the moment in Ireland is incredible. It is a busy industry”.
In his reply, Mr Rabbitte said: “Once issued, all licences are active. There are 24 prospecting licence applications currently under consideration by the department.”
He said: “While no new commercially viable deposits of minerals have been discovered in the past ten years, there have been some encouraging results, particularly in counties Limerick and Clare.
“However, it is too early to determine whether these results will lead to identification of commercially viable deposits or to estimate the economic benefits that might accrue.”
Mr Millar revealed IMC Exploration Corporation’s latest drill results for Co Clare “are very, very exciting”.
The company is currently drilling in its licensed area near the east Clare village of Tulla.
Mr Millar said: “It is great news for the company and confirms that significant alteration of the type associated with Silvermines, Lisheen and Galmoy is present in the Tulla area.
“As a result of these highly encouraging findings, we have decided to immediately increase our drilling activity in the Tulla area in order to further understand this area’s exploration potential and confirm the directors’ belief that the Tulla prospecting licence area hosts significant base metal mineralisation.
“We will now introduce a second drill rig to our exploration programme, with one drill rig entirely focused on this exciting base metal prospect in Tulla.”
Mr Millar cautioned: “It is very early stages.
“The results so far are fantastic, but there are a lot of steps yet to be completed before we know how much is there and the grade of the minerals.”
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