O’Reilly is in no doubt that this is the big one everyone had been waiting for.
“What we are announcing is the beginning of that [oil] industry. We hope there is a renaissance of international companies who come to Ireland and help us exploit our natural resources,” he said.
O’Reilly claims he has had “overtures” from oil companies in Asia and the US as well as Europe which are willing to share the risk — and potential US$1 billion cost — of the first-phase development. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest non-state-owned oil company, is already a partner with Providence at another offshore site, Dunquin.
O’Reilly wants the oil to be landed in Ireland and refined locally, but says a partner would be needed for this too. There is already a refinery at Whitegate, near Cork, plus a deep-water harbor.
Yet the biggest prize for Ireland would be if the Barryroe scheme develops as O’Reilly hopes — and triggers a resurgence of interest not only in the Celtic Sea, but in other regions.
Gas has been piped from the Kinsale Head field off Cork for 30 years and there have been other oil finds around the coastline, but none have been big enough to be worth developing. Now the economics have changed — as a result of higher energy prices, lower taxes and new drilling techniques — for fields like Barryroe.
John Mullins, Cork Chamber of Commerce president and CEO of state-owned gas group Bord Gais, said foreign investment from IT and pharmaceutical groups has kept the region more buoyant than others since the crash.
“I’m not an expert in geology or seismology but all the information suggests quite a significant commercial find,” said Mullins, who has already set up an oil and gas exploration group at the chamber.
Foreign companies seem to be the key to much of what happens in Ireland at present.
As one property manager said: “When you talk to one of these large [overseas] firms it is like people from another planet. They are full of hope and optimism whereas locals have had so much bad news that cannot conceive anything getting better. No one in Ireland, perhaps O’Reilly aside, wants to take a risk: they’re full of fear.”