--UPDATE, ADDS FURTHER DETAIL--
The Irish authorities have confirmed that several major international oil and gas companies have been awarded new exploration acreage in the Atlantic margin's off the country's west coast.
China’s National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) - via its Nexen unit - is the largest of the new entrants, and it has secured four offshore licence options.
The new licence awards are focussed on the south Porcupine basin, in Ireland’s Atlantic margin.
Today’s awards have been timed to enable exploration, via seismic surveying, to start this summer and a second and final tranche of licence awards are planned for May.
It is Ireland’s most successful oil and gas licensing process to date, despite the fact that new projects face tighter fiscal terms than prior licences and that this is the worst oil market more than a decade.
The process, which closed in September, received a total of 43 applications. The response from the oil industry has been “extremely positive”, according to Joe McHugh, Ireland’s Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
“This is by far the largest number of applications received in any licensing round held in the Irish offshore,” McHugh said.
“At a time of very low oil prices the strong interest in the round is very positive”
“Industry’s response to the round demonstrates the perceived positive exploration opportunity of Ireland’s offshore and highlights confidence in the Irish regulatory process and the ability of industry to do business in Ireland.”
Nexen, a subsidiary of CNOOC, has been awarded a total of four licence options
ExxonMobil and StatOil, meanwhile, will be partners in a total of six projects – two operated by Exxon, and four operated by StatOil.
BP is partnered with Eni in one licence.
Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has been offered one licence option.
Europa Oil & Gas has expanded its footprint, securing one new licence option. The AIM quoted explorer already has one project in the area where it estimates more than 1bn barrels of oil potential.
News of the licence awards, and more specifically the high calibre new entrants, will be particularly encouraging for Europa's investors because the company is currently in the process of seeking partners for its existing project.
Providence Resources (LON:PVR), which remains one of the largest acreage holders offshore Ireland, has so far not been offered new licences, nevertheless it too is running a process to find new partners and as such will be boosted by today’s news.