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Ireland’s new territorial claim: untold off-shore undersea riches

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

Dublin – A claim to huge tracts of the sub-sea continental shelf surrounding Ireland that could produce a potential exploration bonanza in the future, is being prepared for the Government.

At the moment Ireland’s right to the shelf out to a maximum of 200 miles is recognised internationally. If successful, the new claim would mean an extension out to about 500 miles over some areas of the Rockall Trough and Hatton Basin off the north-west coast.

The extension will mean that our current 600,000 sq km of continental shelf will increase by a third to 800,000 sq km.

Ireland’s offshore rights dwarf the country’s total land area of just over 68,000 sq km.

As the technology for exploiting finds under the seabed in deep waters develops, Ireland could reap a huge bounty in minerals, natural gas, oil, diamonds and gold as well as less valuable gravel, coral and sand deposits.

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The Government has already spent several million pounds gathering information on our shelf, including commissioning its own seismic surveys, to back up the UN case and prove how far it extends out under the sea from the coast before falling away to the deep ocean floor of the Atlantic.

“We designated our continental shelf area out to 200 miles in 1968. A case is now being prepared for an extension. Given the slopes of the shelf off Ireland, it is quite clear we are entitled to more.

“It means getting together a lot of complex scientific data covering the area involved,” a Department of Marine spokesman said.

The case is being prepared by Peter Croker, one of the Department’s petroleum exploration specialists.

He is also one of the 21 international UN commissioners — experts on geology, geophysics and hydrography – elected for five years in 1997 to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

It was established to oversee extension claims. Under CLCS agreement, up to 7 percent of what we find would go to other UN countries that don’t have a coastline or continental shelf.

“The evidence for the case is due to be ready for presentation by December. When it actually goes to the UN for a ruling will be a Government decision. Under the UN Law of the Sea we would then be entitled to explore and, if we are lucky enough to find anything, to produce,” the spokesman said.

Ireland is amongst an estimated 60 states around the world such as the US, Argentina, Australia, Canada and France that have substantial areas of continental shelf off their coasts that entitle them to lodge a claim with the UN.

The new claim may lead to territorial disputes with neighbouring countries, particularly in the north-west with Iceland and the Danish-owned Faroe Islands where many hope offshore riches will be the economic key to give them independence from Copenhagen for the first time in 450 years.

In the south-west, Ireland has agreed on a shelf delimitation procedure with Britain but a dispute could arise with France.

Any such counter-claims are argued before a separate UN disputes procedure.

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