Ireland’s Oil and Gas Reserves
“We declare the right of the Irish people to the ownership of Ireland…”
~ 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic
How Much Oil And Gas Is There?
For decades Ireland was believed to have little or no viable oil or gas reserves. It was only with the development of more advanced methods of exploration that it became apparent that Ireland does indeed have substantial oil and gas reserves.
Before examining how much Irish and oil and gas there is it is important to understand some of the basic terminology used in relation to hydrocarbons and how the value of reserves are determined.
‘Conventional’ and ‘Unconventional’ Oil:
Oil it is often divided into ‘conventional’ and ‘unconventional’ categories. Conventional oil is of a type that can be easily extracted from the earth and requires relatively little processing before it can be used. World supplies of conventional oil are predicted to last somewhere between forty and one hundred years, dependent on the rate of use and the discovery of new oil fields. ‘Unconventional’ oil is of a type extracted from sources such as tar sands, heavy oil and oil shale and is more difficult, expensive and environmentally damaging to produce then ‘conventional’ oil. Irish oil is of the ‘conventional’ type.
The word ‘viable’ is often used in reference to oil or gas fields. Exactly what is considered economically ‘viable’ in the Irish context is decided by the energy companies. Viability is determined not simply by whether a profit can be made but by whether enough profit can be made to satisfy the expectations of the shareholders of the energy companies. By weighing the market price of oil or gas against the cost of extraction ‘viability’ can be established. Therefore an oil or gas field which may be ‘unviable’ when oil prices are relatively low can become very ‘viable’ when prices rise.
Major advances in deep-sea exploration technology have reduced the costs of such extractions and further increased the ‘viability’ of Irish oil and gas reserves.
The energy companies that are currently active in Ireland rank among the worlds largest and do not generally become involved in minor or ‘marginal’ fields. Shell, the primary developers of the Corrib gas field generated profits in excess of twenty-seven billion dollars in 2007. Exxon, which owns 40% of the Dunquin field, declared profits for 2007 of more than forty billion dollars.
Measuring the size of an oil or gas field:
Oil fields are generally measured by the estimated numbers of barrels of oil they contain while gas fields are generally measured in either estimated cubic feet or metres.
Measuring the value of an oil or gas field:
It is impossible to determine what the exact future monetary value of a particular oil or gas field might be. This is because the actual size of an oil or gas field may differ from the estimated size and the price of oil and gas is constantly fluctuating. It is possible, however, to calculate the total value of a reserve based on the estimated size of the reserve multiplied by a fixed price per barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas.
Ireland’s Oil and Gas
Irish territorial waters cover an area roughly 10 times the size of the island of Ireland extending to a distance of 200 nautical miles off the coast line.
Within this territory there is an underwater known as the ‘Atlantic margin’. It runs parallel to the island of Ireland from Kerry to Derry and then continues across by the North of Scotland and onwards to Scandinavia. Massive oil and gas reserves have been already been discovered and extracted along the North Sea section of the Atlantic margin, generating huge wealth for the economies of both Britain and Norway.
Many geologists believe that there are also substantial reserves of oil and gas to be found along the Irish section of the Atlantic margin. Advances in deep sea exploration technology over the last decade are now allowing those reserves to be discovered and extracted.
Additional explorations and discoveries have taken place at many other offshore locations off the coast of counties, Dublin, Donegal, Waterford, Cork, Antrim and elsewhere. The oil and gas fields listed below are in order of their estimated financial value:
“If we’re even half right with the numbers, and ExxonMobil goes ahead and drills, suddenly you could have a substantial new source – not just Dunquin in isolation but a whole new hydrocarbon region. It changes Ireland, it changes England, it changes the energy position of Europe.”
These are the words of Tony O’Reilly Junior CEO of Providence Resources. He was speaking in relation to the Dunquin oil and gas reserve which is located 200km off the coast of Kerry. And it would appear that O’Reilly wasn’t just talking up his company’s prospects. In 2006 US energy giant Exxon bought into Dunquin and in 2009 Italy’s largest industrial company ENI followed suit. The buy-in of such powerful players suggests that Dunquin may well be a reserve of staggering proportions.
Estimated Size of Reserve: The current estimated size of the combined oil and gas in Dunquin is 1,716MMBOE*. It should be noted that these estimates are supplied by the private energy companies that have exclusive control of the data resulting from geological and seismic explorations.
Potential Value: €171.6billion when calculated at €100 per barrel.
Location: Porcupine Basin 200km south-west of the coast of Co Kerry.
Status: Site survey precursor to drilling took place in the summer of 2010. Exploration drilling scheduled to take place in 2012/2013.
Owned By: ENI (40%), ExxonMobil: (40%), Providence Resources (16%), Sosina: (4%)
*Providence Annual Report 2010
Estimated Size of Reserve: When first discovered by Esso in the 1970s the Barryroe oil field was deemed to be commercially unviable. In July 2012 Providence Resources, the current operators of the field, revealed that new drilling and mapping suggested that Barryroe potentially contained between 1 billion and 1.6 billion barrels of high quality oil.*
Potential Value: €160 billion when calculated at €100 per barrel.
Location: Celtic Sea, 50km off the coast of Co Cork
Status: Providence, who believe the field to be commercially viable, are currently conducting further tests whilst seeking additional partners to fund commercial extraction. Further information on Barryroe expected in late 2012/ early 2013.
Owned By: Providence Resources (80%) and Landsdowne Oil & Gas (20%)
* Providence Website July 2012
Estimated Size of Reserve: Corrib and associated fields estimated in 1998 to contain between 6 and 11 TCF* (Trillion Cubic Feet of gas). As of June 2008 Shell estimated the Corrib field to contain 1TCF**. As with all other explorations there has been no independent assessment made of the size of the Corrib reserve.
Potential Value: Between €16.7billion and €183.7billion when calculated in oil equivalent priced at €100 per barrel.
Location: Slyne/Erris Basin, 80km off the coast of Mayo.
Status: Controversial gas refinery in Balllinaboy, Co Mayo, was largely completed by Spring 2011. With full planning permission granted for revised onshore pipeline Shell has publicly announced its intention to bring refinery into operation in 2011/2012.
Owned By: Shell (45%), Statoil (36.5%) and Vermilion (18.5%)
*CPI – The Great Corrib Gas Controversy
** Shell Website June 2008
Estimated Size of Reserve: Currently estimated at 550MMBOE.*
Potential Value: €55billion when calculated at €100 per barrel
Location: Porcupine Basin 200km off coast of Co Clare.
Status: Further 3D seismic mapping scheduled to take place during 2011.
Owned By: Providence (72%), Sosina (18%) and CMI (10%).
*Providence Annual Report 2010
Spanish Point / Burren
Estimated Size of Reserve: Spanish Point is currently estimated at 200MMBOE with the Burren reserve holding an additional estimated 66MMBOE.*
Potential Value: €26.6billion when calculated at €100 per barrel.
Location: Porcupine Basin, 200km off the coast of Co Clare
Status: First discovered in 1981 but deemed to be non-viable at that time due to lower energy prices. Currently being assessed for viability with appraisal drilling scheduled to take place in 2012/2013.
Owned By: Chrysaor 60.0%, Providence 32.0% and Sosina 8.0%
* Providence Annual Report 2010
Kinsale Head / Ballycotton / Southwest Kinsale / Seven Heads
Estimated Size of Reserves: 1.5TCF
Potential value: Reserves largely depleted
Location: 50km off the coast of Co Cork.
Satus: ‘First’ gas from Kinsale Head gas field in 1978. Ballycotton ‘first’ gas in 1991. Southwest Kinsale first gas in 1999. Seven heads ‘first gas’ in 2003. Reserves now largely depleted. Expected to finish production by 2015.
Owned By: Marathon
In addition to the offshore reserves listed above a significant onshore gas reserve has been identified in the Lough Allen Basin. The proposed method of extraction for this gas, known as ‘fracking’, is highly controversial due to the impact is has on the surrounding environment.
Lough Allen Basin
Estimated Size of Reserve: 9.4TCF*
Potential Value: €156billion when calculated at €100 per barrel.
Location: Beneath Lough Allen and straddling counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo.
Status: Gas first discovered in the 1960s. Relatively low gas prices and difficulties with extraction deemed the field to be ‘unviable’ until recently. Lough Allen Natural Gas Company (Langco) and the Australian company Tamboran Resources awarded license to commence exploration works in 2011.