(Apr. 22, 2010) Ireland's Parliament (the Oireachtas) has recently enacted a new Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Act, Act 4/2010 (Ir.). The Act has not yet been published in the Irish Statute Book (it would have been available through the online version of the Statute Book, at http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2010/acts.htm (last visited Apr. 20, 2010)), but the bill that was approved in both of Ireland's legislative bodies, the Seanad and the Dáil Éireann, is available. (Oireachtas website, http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/bills/2010/0310/B0310S.pdf
(last visited Apr. 20, 2010).) As the Press Release issued by the government explains, the purpose of the Act is to give a Commission for Energy Regulation responsibility for the safety of oil and gas infrastructure in Ireland and to authorize it to implement risk-based safety assessments for petroleum activities. (Press Release, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, New Bill on Oil and Gas Safety (Jan. 28, 2010), available at http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Press+Releases/New+Bill+on+oil+and+gas+safety.ht
Offshore drilling for oil and gas has been conducted under the supervision of the Government of Ireland since the 1970s. However, as of September 2008, only 177 wells had been constructed, compared with 4,000 in the United Kingdom and 1,200 in Norway. (Oil Companies Take a Punt on Offshore Ireland, OFFSHORE-TECHNOLOGY.COM, Sept. 17, 2008, available at http://www.offshore-technology.com/features/feature40941/.) The Government of Ireland has been attempting to encourage more drilling by offering generous tax rates. At present, two major projects are being developed. These are the Corrib gas pipeline and the Shannon gas project. (Press Release, supra.) These projects have been met with considerable local opposition by citizens concerned about their safety. One group known as “Shell to Sea” has been particularly vocal and organized in its opposition to the Corrib project, and several residents of the town of Rossport in County Mayo have been jailed for their activities. (Shell to Seawebsite, http://www.shelltosea.com/
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Drawn by the low corporate tax rates in Ireland, declining reserves in the North Sea, and studies that show that there may be reserves of 10 billion barrels of oil off Ireland's Atlantic coast, oil companies have increased exploration in the region in recent years. (OFFSHORE TECHNOLOGY.COM, supra.) The enactment of the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Act is intended to provide for greater regulation of these activities, with special emphasis on safety.