22nd September

Exploration halted at the Kish Bank Basin

Shay Fennelly

Last December, An Taisce sought a Judical Review of a decision by the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government (DECLG) to grant a Foreshore Licence to Providence Resources Plc to undertake site investigations and to drill an exploration well in the Kish Bank Basin, 6 km off Dalkey, Co Dublin.

The National Trust for Ireland contends that the decision to grant a foreshore licence does not conform to the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. It is also concerned that a failure in the national EIA legislative framework on which this decision was made, has implications for both offshore and onshore drilling.

Looking seaward to where Providence Resources sought a licence for an exploration well in the Kish Bank Basin, 6 km off Dalkey, Co Dublin. Photo Gillian Mills

 

Looking seaward to where Providence Resources sought a licence for an exploration well in the Kish Bank Basin, 6 km off Dalkey, Co Dublin. Photo Gillian Mills

Licence surrender

Before the Judical Review was heard in early February Providence Resources Plc surrendered the Foreshore Licence it was awarded in September 2012 covering Standard Exploration Licence 2/11 (SEL 2/11). This licence permitted the company to carry out a well site survey and to drill an exploration well on the Dalkey Island prospect. The decision to surrender the licence was taken by Providence Resources Plc following discussions with DECLG when it became clear that certain elements of the EU, EIA Directive had not been transposed correctly in 1999 by the Irish Government.

In a statement (12/02/13) Providence Resources states: ‘The lack of clarity on this issue meant that the Foreshore Licence, and subsequent exploration activities could have been the subject of legal challenges and delays. The decision to surrender the foreshore licence now means that the Minister can move immediately to amend planning and environmental regulations thereby ensuring that the Irish regulatory framework complies with the EU Directive.'

 

Post transposition

Once the EIA Directive is correctly transposed, Providence will be in a position to submit a new application to proceed with operations in SEL 2/11, probably in the first quarter of 2014.

Last March Inshore Ireland asked the Department of Environment Local Government and Heritage what elements of the EIA Directive had not been transposed correctly as referred to by Providence Resources. DELGH told Inshore Ireland it was working with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on this matter and that advice has been sought from the Attorney Generals office.

The transposition issue in question concerns the criteria to be applied when screening for EIA for certain classes of development. The application by Providence Resources was the first of its kind on the State’s foreshore, which only extends to 12 nautical miles, and the matter had not previously come to light and only became apparent following An Taisce’s application for a Judicial Review in December 2012.

Background

Annex II of the EIA Directive states that decisions on whether EIA requirements apply to particular projects ‘must be considered on either a case by case basis, or with regard to national thresholds or criteria. Annex III sets out the selection criteria that must be taken into consideration in such instances.

Annex II includes ‘deep drillings, in particular geothermal drilling, drilling for the storage of nuclear waste material, drilling for water supplies,’ DECLG confirmed to Inshore Ireland.

National legislation transposing the Directive does not include a reference to deep drillings but refers instead to ‘all geothermal drilling and drilling for the storage of nuclear waste material; drilling, other than test drilling, for water supplies, where the expected supply would exceed 2 million cubic metres per annum.

According to Providence Resources website FAQ, legislation requires that any activity (be it exploration, wind farms, piers, etc) within the State’s foreshore requires a foreshore licence. For example, Providence is currently drilling a well off the coast of Cork, but because it is outside the foreshore limit, a foreshore licence was not required for this operation.

DECLG has told Inshore Ireland they do not know when this matter will be finalised.

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