By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Ireland’s two existing offshore gas fields off the Cork coast will run out by 2004 at the latest, according to Energy Minister Joe Jacob, who told the Dail that up to 70 percent of the State’s natural gas requirements last year were imported though a undersea pipeline from Scotland.
The Kinsale Head gas field was discovered off Cork in the early 1970s by the U.S. Marathon Oil company. Marathon later found a second, smaller field close by off Ballycotton.
The minister was introducing legislation to allocate scarce capacity in the natural gas network to prospective power producers to ensure that the electricity supplies can be met in coming years.
The new laws will also give private pipeline developers the same powers to access and compulsorily purchase rights over land as those held by the State gas company, BGE.
The company supplies natural gas to more than 300,000 homes and has more than 10,000 industrial and commercial customers.
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At the end of 1998, natural gas was meeting 23 percent of the country’s energy requirements. Last year, more than 30 percent of electricity was generated from gas.
Jacob said the Scottish interconnector pipeline is nearing full capacity 10 years sooner than had been anticipated due to faster-than-expected growth in demand as the economy has boomed.
An Irish government study has recommended a second gas pipeline to the UK and Jacob said companies are interested in building connectors with Belfast and the west coast of Britain.
"Our existing indigenous reserves of natural gas in the Kinsale Head and Ballycotton fields are declining and are expected to be depleted in four to six years depending on the rate of depletion," Jacob said.
Jacob said the consortium of Enterprise Oil, Statoil and Marathon will decide later this year whether the Corrib gas find off the west coast is commercial.