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How will 'unprecedented' levels of oil and gas exploration affect wildlife?

The Government has announced a new plan to carry out surveys of areas of potential exploration.

THE GOVERNMENT IS set to carry out a survey of Irish waters to gauge the potential impact of oil and gas exploration on protected wildlife and the environment.

This is aimed at addressing knowledge gaps that exist in the understanding of protected species and sites in offshore basins.

Speaking at the Atlantic Ireland Conference in Dublin, Minister of State with responsibility for Natural Resources, Joe McHugh, today urged for the “very significant” momentum of exploration to continue.

He noted that the level of seismic acquisition – a method of underground imaging – between 2013 and 2014 was higher than in the previous 10 years combined.

There is currently the highest level of exploration authorisations in place since this process first took place 40 years ago.

“All of this demonstrates that exploration in the Irish offshore is moving in the right direction,”  McHugh said.

The Government’s intention is that this momentum should be maintained, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the true potential of our indigenous oil and gas resources will be realised for the benefit of our people.

He added that there has been “positive interest” in the next round of licensing.

These areas involved will now be subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).

“My Department, in liaison with the National Parks and Wildlife Service is establishing a marine mammal data acquisition programme, with funding being made available for this programme from research funding managed by my Department,” he said.

“By acquiring a more detailed understanding of species distribution, relative abundance and sensitivity/vulnerability in our offshore waters we will ensure continued robust decision-making in relation to proposed petroleum exploration activities.”

Earlier this year, the Government announced new fiscal terms for oil and gas exploration.

Under the new regime, which is hoped to attract more business to the industry, will see the system of royalty payments to Government increase.

Read: Dubai state-owned oil company plans €627m buyout of Irish exploration firm >

More: Ireland will receive more taxes from oil and gas exploration under new terms >

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