By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Next year may see the biggest oil and gas exploration boom for decades, with up to eight wells being drilled in four areas off the West Coast, according to the Department of Marine and Natural Resources.
The Department says that next year’s wells will be drilled in the Porcupine Basin, the Slyne-Erris area and possibly in the Donegal and Rockall Basins.
An announcement that the country’s second large gas field — the Corrib off Mayo — is commercial is expected in the near future from the Enterprise Energy led exploration consortium.
It is thought to contain a trillion cubic feet of gas compared to the 1.5 trillion so far produced so far from the Kinsale Head and Ballycotton fields off Cork.
Oil companies currently hold 21 exploration licenses around the coast and there are eight licensing options and two leases.
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In addition, there are applications for a further license option and two leases.
The onshore mining search is also being stepped up with 495 prospecting licenses being issued up to the end of last month.
With the combined output from the mines at Tara, Co. Meath, Galmoy in County Kilkenny and Lisheen in County Tipperary, Ireland is already the sixth biggest zinc producer in the world.
A planning application has been lodged to mine additional for additional reserves discovered at Galmoy and Tara has applied for a new lease to extend their ore body.
Minister Frank Fahey said there were other encouraging results from ongoing exploration, particularly for zinc, but it was too early to say whether they would lead to commercial developments.
The Department is currently carrying out an international comparison of royalty and tax payments in other countries to "fine tune" the system here and ensure it remains competitive.