Éamon Ryan says he wants Irish waters to be "fully explored", but with a "proper return to the State" if oil and gas are discovered.
The Minister made his comments yesterday when he announced terms for a new oil and gas exploration licensing round in the Porcupine Basin.
The acreage covers unlicensed blocks in an area of approximately 63,500sq km and terms will be subject to the new tax regime announced by the Minister in August.
New domestic sources of oil and gas would ease the State's dependence on imported fuels "from areas of the world that are geopolitically volatile", which is contributing to price instability, Mr Ryan said in a statement.
Dependence on imported oil and gas had grown to over 85 per cent here in the past decade, he noted. "As we approach a peak in oil finds, Ireland has become much more attractive to oil and gas companies," he said, and finds under the new licensing round could "potentially yield much greater funds for the exchequer".
Under the tax terms announced by the Minister in August, and applicable to licences awarded from January 1st, 2007, profitable fields will pay up to 40 per cent in tax - a top rate increase of 15 per cent for the oil and gas companies involved.
Estimates from the Department of Energy's own internal analysis last year suggest that the potential of the Atlantic margin has been played down. It believes there could be at least 10 billion barrels of "oil equivalent" resources - as in crude oil or gas - off the west coast, which would be worth $600 billion or €455 billion at a rate of $60 a barrel.
Currently some 30 companies are working on various aspects of mineral exploration/production in these waters, ranging from the Corrib gas developers to smaller companies involved in seismic surveys. The last licences issued were four for the Slyne/Erris/Donegal areas in August, 2006.
Applicants for frontier exploration licences for the Porcupine Basin may be approved for a maximum of three blocks in the north and six blocks in the south of the basin.
In advance of licensing awards, a strategic environmental assessment was being undertaken by consultants, which would inform the industry of any environmental characteristics and sensitivities of the area and recommend how these can be addressed. This must take place under the EU environmental assessment directive.
Mr Ryan said the next exploration licensing round will take place in early 2009 in the Rockall Basin.
The Irish Offshore Operators Association welcomed the announcement. Chief executive Fergus Cahill noted: "It is in everyone's interest to have this area explored, and the high price of oil, coupled with technological developments, will help," he said.
The association has already warned that a lot of effort has produced little yield, with only two of nine exploration wells drilled over the past decade proving substantial. Corrib in 1996 and Dooish in the Rockall Basin in 2002.
The Irish Times