Could Cork oilfield solve Ireland’s energy problems?


AS motor fuel prices soar northwards of €2.10 per litre in most forecourts around Cork, Cork TD Michael Collins, along with colleagues, have highlighted an untapped source of up to 350 million barrels of oil lying underneath the sea floor in the Barryroe oilfield off the coast of Cork.

he problem is that the company which is seeking to exploit the oilfield, which lies in 100m of water approximately 50 km off the shore of Cork, is still waiting six months later for a decision from Green Party Energy Minister Eamon Ryan, having applied for a follow on licence in January.

The oilfield, estimated to be one of the largest undeveloped oil and gasfields off European shores, is a priority for oil exploration company Providence Resources which holds an existing oil exploration licence for the field which expired on July 13, 2021.

According to a statement issued to The Corkman by a spokesperson on behalf of Providence Resources, the company wrote to Energy Minister Eamon Ryan in January of this year to apply for a follow-on permit which is called a lease undertaking. In the statement issued to The Corkman, the company said it had complied with all the conditions to be awarded this follow on licence.

“The Lease Undertaking is subject to Ministerial approval by Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“In January 2022, Providence Resources wrote to Minister Eamon Ryan on two occasions asking him to grant the Lease Undertaking.

“The company is still awaiting a decision from Minister Ryan.

“The Lease Undertaking is urgently required to allow Providence Resources to move forward with plans to drill an appraisal well at Barryroe. Without the Lease Undertaking, Providence Resources would be unable to realise the Barryroe Field’s potential and the energy resource opportunity to Ireland will likely be lost.”

When oil prices were as low as €20 a barrel last year, the incentive to make the investment to exploit the Barryroe field would not have been as great as it is now when the price of a barrel of oil is $122.

An oilfield with 350m barrels of oil could, at today’s prices, yield more than €40 illion for the company and be a huge boost for Cork and the south west region in terms of knock on benefits.

However, Government’s climate ambitions, and the dependence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on the Green Party for its continued survival, is looking like it’s the most likely obstruction to the exploitation of Barryroe.

It needs to be said, however, that even if a licence were granted today, oil would not be coming ashore for up to three years, according to an independent oil exploration expert contacted by The Corkman.

According to a strategic review of the Barryroe oilfield published by Providence Resources in February, the company argued in its application for a lease undertaking that the Barryroe field would be an important element in the transitiion of the Irish economy to carbon neutral status, given that we are importing oil from afar as it is and the Barryroe field would be offshore.

“The Board set out a number of considerations and noted that a decision not to grant the Lease Undertaking, or a protracted delay in doing so, would mean that the potential of the Barryroe Field will not be realised.

“In our view, this would represent a serious failure in the national effort to transition the Irish economy to carbon neutral status by 2050.

“The Board unreservedly supports Government and EU policy in relation to tackling climate change.

“Given that gas and oil will be essential energy sources for many years to come, the Board is confident that the potential offered by successful exploitation of the Barryroe Field would be an important element in Ireland’s energy transition.

“Additionally, the Barryroe Field has the potential to provide significant strategic and fiscal value to the Irish economy at no cost to the Irish taxpayer.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Cork South West TD Michael Collins urged the Energy Minister, Eamon Ryan, to respond positively to Providence Resources as a matter of urgency.

“Minister Ryan must agree to actively engage with Providence Resources to enable Barryroe to be fully exploited for the people of Ireland,” he said. “Barryroe is the richest oil and gas field in Europe,” he said. “Imagine that – and what are we doing, we’re begging the English to give us a drop of fuel.”

He said Ireland was importing up to €8 billion worth of fossil fuel every year and warned the country could grind to a halt if Boris Johnson cut off our oil supply from the UK.

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