DUBLIN, Ireland – The Irish government is investigating ways of stimulating fresh exploration activity in its frontier western offshore basins.
At the recent Atlantic Ireland 2012 conference, Fergus O’Dowd, minister of state at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said the response to the 2011 Atlantic Margin licensing round had been positive, with a record 13 authorizations issued to 12 companies, including seven entrants new to the Irish sector.
However, large areas on offer attracted no applications, despite the basins having proven petroleum systems. The conclusion was that poor to non-existent seismic data coverage was a factor that needed to be addressed.
Following consultation with the industry, the department designed a new seismic acquisition survey program, intended to provide a regional grid of high-quality seismic data over the frontier basins.
Tendering is under way for a seismic contractor, with acquisition scheduled for 2013. ENI has agreed to provide technical support and operatorship for the program, with close involvement of the department’s technical staff. The data should allow Ireland’s frontier resource potential to be predicted with much greater confidence, O’Dowd added, enabling the industry and the government to better evaluate future licensing opportunities.
As for the location of any future Irish licensing rounds, the department is examining relevant factors and the impact of new data acquisition and prospectivity-assessments.
Another priority is to establish a clear, robust, transparent and effective regulatory framework governing oil and gas exploration and production, O’Dowd said. “In that regard, I welcome the progress being made by the Commission for Energy Regulation in establishing the petroleum safety framework.
“This new framework has drawn on best international practices in its development to ensure that the highest safety regulatory standards are in place in Ireland. Having been developed in close consultation and cooperation with the relevant statutory bodies and with industry, it will clearly set out, through guidelines and procedures, how the commission will carry out its petroleum safety functions.”
The commission should have an active role with regard to exploration drilling from 2014 onward and will serve as the upstream safety regulator when gas production starts from Shell’s Corrib field offshore western Ireland. This is now likely in late 2014.
The final element of the project, construction of the onshore part of the Corrib gas pipeline, is currently in progress.