Cork coast has potential to become billion-dollar enterprise as hunt for oil intensifies

Drilling for oil at Barryroe. Picture: Finbarr O’Rourke.
By Grainne McGuinness

Drilling for oil off the Cork coast has the potential to become a billion-dollar enterprise in the coming years, with enormous benefits for employment in the region, writes Grainne McGuinness.

That was the bold statement by businessman Tony O’Reilly Jr, as his company Providence Resources finalises a new deal with a Chinese consortium to fund appraisal drilling.

Mr O’Reilly told the Evening Echo that success at Barryroe, off the coast of Kinsale, would also mean success for the Cork area.

“Big investment would follow,” he said of a full drilling campaign.

While the initial investment is €100m to €150m, for a full field development you are talking up to a billion dollars and potentially even more than that.

It is six years since Providence Resources successfully flow tested a well at Barryroe, and it is estimated it holds between 1bn and 1.6bn barrels of oil.

With the assistance of the Apec consortium, the company hopes to move ahead with appraisal drilling in the first half of next year.

“We know there is oil there because we have successfully drilled and have all the data,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“It is now looking at the ultimate field development, how many wells would be required, where they would be located.”

Providence Resources Chief Executive Tony O’Reilly with a vial of oil from Barryroe. Picture: Finbarr O’Rourke.

If they are able to move forward at the planned timeline, he believes they could be pumping oil commercially in Barryroe within five or six years.

“It is an offshore development but obviously for Cork there are huge opportunities,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“We will base ourselves out of Cork, which we always do for our drilling operations, but this would be a development as well.”

Test drilling to begin next year

Providence Resources chief executive Tony O’Reilly Jr says the company will be utilising a mixture of Chinese funding and local expertise as it aims to open Ireland’s first commercial oil field 50km off the coast of Cork at Barryroe.

Earlier this year, the company announced a deal with the Chinese Apec consortium, who will provide both funding and equipment for appraisal drilling at the oil and gas field.

“What they bring is the operational capability,” Mr O’Reilly said.

They are bringing in one of the world’s largest offshore services companies to come and assist in the actual operations, bringing in equipment, all that sort of stuff.

“We are very pleased with their capabilities to assist to bring the field forward.”

Once the deal has regulatory approval, they will move to appraisal drilling and then, Mr O’Reilly Jr hopes, to development of the field as a commercial enterprise.

The best-case scenario would be Commercial drilling could begin in approximately five years, but the company is already in contact with the various entities they will interact with. on the project.

A delegation from China Offshore Services Limited (COSL) was here in Cork last week for operational meetings with Providence Resources regarding the drilling programme at Barryroe, which is planned for Spring 2019. While in Cork, the delegation visited the Port of Cork, met with Mainport, visited Cork Airport where they met Weston Aviation, and toured the training facilities at the National Maritime College of Ireland.

“We will base ourselves out of Cork, which we always do for our drilling operations, but this will be a development as well,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“Last week we were down with the whole team. We met the Port of Cork, who were great, looking at their facilities, we were at the airport looking at their facilities for helicopters.

Big investment will follow. While the initial investment is €100m to €150m, for a full field development you are talking up to a billion dollars and potentially even more than that.

He said Cork is ideally suited for this type of specialist project.

“We would also look to leverage the expertise that Cork has in servicing the offshore industry,” he Mr O’Reilly said. “You sometimes forget how Cork is an energy hub — about 30% of Ireland’s energy comes through Cork.

“Whether that is the Kinsale hub, which has been a fantastic success for nearly 40 years, or indeed other people doing exploration activities off the coast.

Most people choose Cork because of its natural harbour and good facilities, plus also their expertise. Cork has been servicing the industry for so many years. I can’t put numbers on it right now but it can only be a positive for Cork in terms of more employment, more investment — I think it is good for everybody.

Mr O’Reilly described the team at the Port Of Cork as ‘the best of the best’ and singled out the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy for particular praise.

“We went to the National Maritime College and the facilities there were incredible,” he said.

“It is world class, as an Irishman, I was so proud that we had something of that calibre.

“But everybody has been very helpful.

“They have already done it here, Kinsale is a perfect example of a successful development over the years, being supported by the Port Of Cork and all the people there. We are just building on that experience.”

Renewable energy is a growing topic and area of investment but, while Mr O’Reilly says it is something they are open to, for now, they believe oil and gas offer enormous potential benefits for Cork and Ireland.

“Our main business is Energy and Petroleum, we’re not suddenly going to step away from oil and gas investment in Ireland because we still believe there is huge potential offshore in Ireland,” he said.

“The Government are supportive of exploration and development and Minister of State Seán Kyne gave a speech a few weeks ago reiterating the importance of oil and gas.

“The level of investment of new companies coming into offshore Ireland is the highest it has ever been, and so it is an exciting time to see if we can truly exploit oil and gas resources for the benefit of the country.”

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