Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the latest estimates regarding the potential oil and gas reserves within Ireland’s 652,000 square kilometres of offshore; and his plans to encourage greater exploration.
Reply from Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Fergus O’Dowd (left): While petroleum systems assessments for the Irish offshore frontier basins based on geological criteria and regional comparisons may indicate significant potential reserves, I must stress that the only commercial discoveries of petroleum made in the Irish offshore since exploration began in the early seventies are the three producing gas fields in the Kinsale area, along with the Corrib Gas Field which is currently being developed. To date, there have been no commercial discoveries of oil in the Irish offshore. Extensive exploration, including the drilling of hundreds of exploration wells, would be necessary in order to be able to quantify, or at least get a better understanding of the extent of our reserves.
Government policy in this area is directed at maximising the benefits to Ireland from exploration and production of our indigenous oil and gas resources, while ensuring that activities are conducted safely and with due regard to their impact on the environment and other land/sea users.
To this end my Department encourages exploration investment through an active and targeted promotion campaign, regular licensing rounds, supporting petroleum research projects that deepen knowledge of the petroleum potential of the Irish offshore and by maintaining an appropriate fiscal regime. In that regard I recently announced the headline details for the next licensing round to be held in Ireland's Atlantic Margin, with a closing date of September 2015. Providing advance details of the round will encourage industry to devote resources to preparing for participation in the round.
Conscious that the existence of quality data is key to encouraging exploration, last June my Department, in conjunction with exploration company Eni launched a major seismic acquisition programme to provide a regional grid of high quality seismic data over our Atlantic frontier basins, particularly in the Southern Porcupine, Rockall and Hatton basins. It is by far the largest regional seismic survey to be acquired in the Irish offshore and was designed to complement existing datasets and to fill data gaps that exist. The survey will add to the understanding of the petroleum potential of our frontier basins and should provide a boost to our efforts to attract international mobile exploration investment to Ireland in the next licensing round.
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the progress that has been made through mapping and other means by his Department’s underwater archaeology unit to establish the location of the estimated 15,000 shipwrecks lying in Irish territorial waters.
Reply from Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan: My Department’s National Monuments Service, through its Underwater Archaeology Unit, has been researching shipwrecks in Irish territorial waters since 1999 and, from documentary sources and local research and knowledge has, to date, built up a database of 17,000 wrecks, of which some 3,000 have been accurately located.
With the co-operation and assistance of the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute, the identity and location of a further 300 wrecks has been identified and verified through high resolution seabed mapping techniques. Further analysis of data already collected and continuing research is expected to increase the number of known shipwreck sites as time goes on.
Work is currently being finalised on the development of a shipwrecks database for inclusion in the National Monuments Service website, www.archaeology.ie, where it will be available to the general public. My Department has also produced two related publications in recent years: The Shipwreck Inventory of Ireland: Louth to Wicklow and Warships, U-Boats and Liners, the latter in co-operation with the Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland.
Dáil Éireann allocates a certain amount of time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during which Deputies may ask questions of Members of the Government relating to Public Affairs connected with their Departments, or on matters of administration for whch they are officially responsible. The Taoiseach answers questions on his own Department on Tuesdays/Wednesdays.