China-backed oil drilling project faces site-probe delay

Assessment: Richard Bruton’s department is at odds with Cnooc’s report on the environment
Assessment: Richard Bruton’s department is at odds with Cnooc’s report on the environment

The Government has still not given the go-ahead for a major, multimillion-euro oil exploratoration drilling programme off the south-west coast by a firm backed by Chinese state company Cnooc and energy giant Exxon Mobil.

The drilling programme by the company – planned to begin as early as next month – is due to take place in the Porcupine Basin, 232km from the coast and in ocean depths of about 2,200m.

Cnooc Petroleum Europe, formerly Nexen Petroleum, plans to drill a single exploratory well in the so-called Iolar prospect in the basin.

“The well will be drilled using a floating drill ship suitable for the deep-water west of Ireland with the earliest start date for drilling operations being April 2019,” it told the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment back in November when it applied for permission to undertake the project.

But an independent consultancy firm hired by the Department, where Richard Bruton is minister, said it does not agree that Cnooc’s environmental screening report in relation to the project is sufficient.

The department has said that an appropriate assessment is now required. That will determine the potential for adverse effects on the conservation objectives of a European natural site.

If permission is granted too late by the department, it’s possible that the timeline on the drilling might be delayed given that such activity is typically planned for the spring and summer months when weather conditions are usually more benign.

Cnooc has indicated that its window for the drilling project is April 1 to September 30.

It’s intended that the Stena Icemax ship will be used for the drilling works. It can drill in depths of up to 10,000ft, or just over 3,000m. It’s expected that the well itself will be drilled to a depth of 6.31km if oil is detected, or 5.9km if it’s dry.

Cnooc said that the total duration of the drilling and related works on location will be between 100 and 150 days.

Irish Independent


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