Oil exploration

Government currently considering 10 petroleum licence applications in Irish waters

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told a UN climate summit that oil exploration in Irish waters would end.

offshore ireland A map showing petroleum exploration and development as of 30 June 2019 Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

THE GOVERNMENT IS considering awarding 10 petroleum exploration licences, despite the Taoiseach stating yesterday that he intends to phase out oil exploration in Irish waters. 

Speaking in New York yesterday, Leo Varadkar said oil exploration in Irish waters would end. However, he said gas exploration would continue for now, “as it is a transition fuel that we’ll need for decades to come”. 

“In the last week, on foot of a request from me, our independent Climate Change Advisory Council recommended that exploration for oil should end, as it is incompatible with a low-carbon future,” Varadkar said. 

The Taoiseach added that he accepts this advice and “Ireland will now act on it”. 

However, it has been revealed that applications for ten petroleum authorisations are currently under consideration by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. 

Junior Minister Sean Canney, who has responsibility for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources, confirmed that up to the end of June 2019, ten petroleum authorisations are currently under consideration by his Department.

These include two licensing options, which gives the holder the first right to an exploration licence over all or part of the area covered by the option, as well as six frontier exploration licences.

Frontier licences are issued in respect of an area with special difficulties related to physical environment, geology or technology. This type of licence type is valid for a period of not less than twelve years.

The department is also considering two lease undertakings, which gives the licence holder the right to a petroleum lease over that part of the area covered. 

As of 30 June 2019, there were over two dozen frontier licences for offshore sites in Irish waters. A number of these licences remain valid well into the 2030s.

It’s understood the measures outlined by Varadkar will only apply to new applicants. 

In a statement to, a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment noted that Varadkar and Bruton had requested advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council regarding the future of oil and natural gas offshore exploration. 

“The Council noted that the Government’s Climate Action Plan envisages a major shift away from oil combustion within heat and transport sectors towards renewables in the coming decade. Therefore, the Council advises that the exploration for, and recovery of new offshore oil reserves is not compatible with a low carbon transition,” the spokesperson said.

“The Council have further advised that the continued exploration for, and extraction of new offshore natural gas reserves can be consistent with a low carbon transition.”

They added that Bruton has stated that this advice is accepted and will be acted upon. 

The spokesperson confirmed that Bruton “will bring a memo for government within a month to set out the next steps in terms of how we implement this advice”. 


With reporting from Seán Murray

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