Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources

Seán Canney TD

 Speech for 2019 Atlantic Ireland Conference

Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road

Tuesday, 29th October 2019

Opening Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen it is my pleasure to open this, the 11th Atlantic Ireland Conference and Exhibition.

This Conference and Exhibition is the primary event in the Irish oil and gas industry’s calendar and provides a setting for industry, government organisations, the research community, non-governmental organisations, contractors, consultants, students, and indeed interested citizens, to come together and discuss the latest developments in the sector.

Looking at the agenda, there will be a broad range of presentations and viewpoints, including the significance of the new offshore Ireland stratigraphic framework for exploration; unlocking prospectivity in the South Porcupine Basin; new insights on source rock development; and sand detachment processes to mention a few. There are presentations with a regional, basin and prospect focus. As always, we have an international focus in our Conjugate Margins session and the results from on-going environmental research will be presented tomorrow.

The exhibition and conference area, provides a useful forum for participants to network and share information and innovative ideas.

In welcoming all participants this morning, I would like to extend a special welcome to those of you who have travelled from overseas. I wish you a pleasant stay in Ireland, and if time allows, would strongly recommend a visit to my own county, Galway.

This morning I propose to share with you my thoughts on the sector with three aspects in mind:

  • Government strategy and policy in respect of oil and gas exploration and production;
  • Developments since Atlantic Ireland 2018; and
  • Research initiatives updates
  1. Government Strategy and Policy

The Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Disruption was approved and published by Government on 17 June 2019. It has set out over 180 actions, together with hundreds of sub-actions embracing every relevant sector: electricity, enterprise, housing, heating, transport, agriculture, waste, and the public sector. It puts Ireland on a trajectory to meet our 2030 target for carbon emissions, which is consistent with achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Plan commits to evaluating in detail the changes required to adopt a more ambitious commitment of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Plan will inevitably result in a reduction in Ireland’s use of fossil fuels and the government is cognisant that this will be have an impact on exploration investment offshore Ireland. My officials are working hard to establish policy principals to inform your companies’ investment decisions. However, I know that many of you here today also have energy interests beyond oil and gas and I am sure this Plan will also present you with new opportunities for innovation and investments in renewable technologies.

Clearly gas remains an important transition fuel. The Kinsale and Seven Heads gas fields are close to their end of life and the Corrib field is also in decline. There remains an imperative for a secure supply of natural gas to the State – to support our industries, heat our homes and support our way of life. The EU faces a similar dilemma, with import dependency for natural gas now at 74% and rising. Given the Government’s commitment to cease electricity production from coal and peat, a secure gas supply is a priority.

I would like to address the recent announcement by the Taoiseach and Minister Bruton, regarding the future of oil exploration offshore Ireland. The future of oil and gas exploration has been debated at length in the Dail for almost two years now. The Government did not support the Climate Emergency Bill, which sought to immediately cease all further exploration, deciding not to issue a money message and halting it’s progress through issuing a reasoned opinion to it’s sponsors.

Following publication of the Climate Plan, advice was sought from the Climate Change Advisory Council on the future exploration and recovery of oil and gas resources within Ireland’s jurisdiction. The Council has since advised that:

  • the exploration for, and recovery of new offshore oil reserves is not compatible with a low carbon transition;
  • that the continued exploration for, and recovery of new offshore natural gas reserves can be consistent with a low carbon transition;
  • that natural gas has been identified internationally as an important transition fuel, as the global energy system switches from carbon intensive fossil fuels to low-carbon and renewable systems on the way to complete decarbonisation.

This accords with the International Energy Agency Review of Ireland’s Energy Policy, which advised that Ireland should continue to explore for natural gas.

Minister Bruton has accepted these advices and the Taoiseach announced in his address to the United Nations Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019 in New York that Ireland would act accordingly.

I am aware of the need to provide clarity to all stakeholders on the implementation of this decision. The Government will shortly announce the key principles which will underpin this decision, which will specifically address:

  • the treatment of existing authorisation holders;
  • the implications for future authorisation applications in both the open and closed areas in the offshore.
  • The mechanism for implementing the decision.

I am well aware of the significant investments made by industry in order to fulfil commitments under the various authorisations and that the industry operates in a challenging investment climate.

My Department will act swiftly to provide certainty for all stakeholders.

I am delighted to be joined on stage by Clare Morgan who leads PAD’s Technical Division. I also note that we also have some new faces this year.  I am delighted to welcome Philip Nugent, our new Assistant Secretary and Martina Hennessy, Principal Officer, who will provide the policy and regulation update.

  1. Developments since Atlantic Ireland 2018

Let me get you up to date on where the current portfolio of authorisations in place is. There are:

  • 34 Exploration Licences
  • 9 Licencing Options
  • 2 Lease Undertakings
  • And, 3 production leases.

The majority of the exploration licences are located in the Celtic Sea and Porcupine basin, where we had the IOLAR well drilled earlier this year by CNOOC and their partners. Clare Morgan, will address the current licencing portfolio and activities in 2019 in more detail in her presentation.

As a passionate advocate of rural development, I am acutely aware of the need to stimulate economic activity on the west coast of Ireland. The drilling of the Iolar well, highlighted potential opportunities from exploration for land-based support services and facilities. The Port of Foynes and Kerry Airport showed how areas on the western seaboard can leverage opportunities from future exploration activity and offshore renewables.

  1. Research Initiatives

And finally turning to Research Initiatives. Research undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in revealing the hydrocarbon potential of our Offshore, and in ensuring that we protect our rich marine environment.  PAD plays an important role in hydrocarbon research by initiating and steering projects and through data provision.

Petroleum Infrastructure Programme

I understand that Ireland is relatively unique in having its own dedicated petroleum research vehicle, the Petroleum Infrastructure Programme or PIP. The Programme was initiated by my Department in conjunction with industry in 1997 and is 22 years old this year.

Through PIP, which is funded by way of contributions from the holders of Frontier Exploration Licences, industry, my Department and academic researchers work closely to implement research projects capable of supporting efforts to promote effective exploration. I understand that there continues to be very good engagement with substantial research projects progressing and indeed being initiated, since the last Atlantic Ireland conference event.

Bio and Litho Stratigraphic study to Update Ireland’s Stratigraphic Framework:

This is a milestone project that has made significant progress and is nearing completion. The objective is to create a formal litho-stratigraphic framework of all basins offshore Ireland. I would invite you to visit my Department’s booth where you will see substantive new results with the first official stratigraphic framework for each offshore basin.  This work is essential considering the high level of interest in our basins and the new scheme will be used as the standard across the Irish offshore area.

Regional Seismic Survey

I am pleased to state that the Department’s Regional Seismic Survey, acquired in 2013 and 2014, still continues to add value. These data are currently being reprocessed using modern processing algorithms to improve the quality of the data and imaging of the rocks beneath the seabed. This remains the largest 2D seismic survey acquired to date offshore Ireland and comprises 16,800 kilometres of valuable geoscience data over our frontier basins.


In November 2017 NAPSA or North Atlantic Petroleum Systems Assessment Agreement between Ireland and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador was renewed. The objective of NAPSA is to foster research collaboration between Irish and Atlantic Canadian researchers. This research collaboration will lead to the establishment of funded scientific projects to enhance our understanding of the petroleum geology of the North Atlantic basins.


Finally, turning to the ObSERVE programme; Marine industrial activities require careful management to ensure adherence to the State’s environmental obligations. The publication of the final ObSERVE Reports in November 2018 has significantly improved the State’s understanding of marine mammal diversity, distribution and movements. All data is now freely available to industry, consultancies and citizen’s on my Department’s website.

It is now confirmed that Irish waters are home to several large baleen whales, such as blue whale, fin whale and humpback whale, as well as rare deep-diving whale species. As these species are vulnerable to the effects of impulsive noise in the marine environment, my Department will use the data to provide the basis for a spatial management-based framework for activities relating to oil and gas exploration. Work is already underway to design Phase II of the ObSERVE Programme involving further survey and data collection. This will build on this evidence base, with a view to underpinning robust environmental assessments as well as future conservation assessments and management regimes.


In conclusion, it is clear we are in a transition period for your industry in Ireland. I am determined that the Taoiseach’s announcement, will be swiftly followed by policy principles that will ensure that clarity is provided to industry in the near future. The Government continues to be committed to exploration of all natural resources, while respecting sustainable development principles. We remain committed to enhancing Ireland’s energy security through exploring potential for gas exploration. Exploration policy principles will assist industry in through providing enhanced investment certainty, complementing work programmes being undertaken by industry and the research community.

I wish you well with today’s and tomorrow’s conference proceedings.


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