Record interest in Irish offshore

September 21, 2015

The largest number of applications in an Irish offshore licensing round have been submitted in the 2015 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round. 

Some 43 applications for licensing options, from majors and independents, were submitted by the Friday 16 September deadline. Minister of State for Natural Resources, Joe McHugh, said: "This is by far the largest number of applications received in any licensing round held in the Irish offshore. The applicant companies include majors, mid-cap companies and smaller companies. The response to the licensing round is a further positive signal of the building momentum in oil and gas exploration offshore Ireland."

Evaluation of the applications will now start, with decisions on the award of exploration authorizations to be made in the coming months.

Exploration offshore Ireland has yet to bear significant fruit. There is a lot of acreage to go for. Offshore Ireland is six times the size of the North Sea and its Atlantic margin area alone has a 10 billion boe yet-to-find reserves potential

To date, however, there has been limited exploration success. There are numerous sedimentary basins, but only about 5% of them have been explored and 10% studied, David Horgan, managing director of Petrel Resources, said during an event last year. 

Up to July 2014, a total of 158 wells (130 exploration and 28 appraisal) had been drilled over the last 50 years, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, and mostly in the Irish Sea, said Ciaran Ó hÓbáin, principle officer of the Petroleum Affairs Division, department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources and Environment of the Republic of Ireland last year. Just 31 wells have been drilled in the Porcupine basin, and none in the Rockall basin, during the same period.

There have been a handful of oil finds, but most have been classified uncommercial, according to government definitions. These include Burren (1978), Connemara (1979), and Spanish Point (1981), in the Porcupine basin.

Interest in the Porcupine basin peaked in July 2013, when Dunquin North was drilled by Exxon Mobil, using the Eirik Raude semisubmersible drilling rig. The US$200 million well—the only southern Porcupine well in 12 years—is reported to have found oil shows in a lower Cretaceous carbonate reservoir. 

Earlier this year, Petronas subsidiary PSE Seven Heads' Midleton well offshore Ireland failed to discover commercial quantities of gas, according to partner Landsdowne Oil & Gas. PSE Seven Heads, a subsidiary of Petronas' PSE Kinsale Energy reached target depth in the well, in the Celtic Sea, at 3393ft true vertical depth below sea level. Good quality reservoirs were encountered in the Greensand and Upper Wealden formations of the Lower Cretaceous.

The Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) welcomed today's announcement. Commenting, Professor Pat Shannon, Chairman of IOOA said: “The Minister’s announcement demonstrates a strong level of interest by the exploration industry in the latest Licensing Round. The last Licensing Round in 2011 had 15 applications compared to the 43 announced by the Minister for this Round and confirms that the Irish Atlantic Margin clearly is viewed as an attractive area despite the current challenging global market conditions facing the industry. 

"The number of applications received is extremely encouraging and bodes well for Irish offshore exploration. IOOA looks forward to the announcement of the awards of blocks to successful applicants in the coming months.”

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