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Global Oil And Gas Giants Send Geologists To Clare

Bridges of Ross, Loop Head, County Clare. Photo Scott Engering, GSI

Bridges of Ross, Loop Head, County Clare. Photo Scott Engering, GSI

The unique geology of Clare has established the County as a leading research location for the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

That’s according to a new book detailing the geology that has established County Clare, home to the Burren and Ireland’s longest cave system, as one of Western Europe’s most geologically important regions.

In ‘Banner Rocks – The Geological Heritage of County Clare’, Dr. Matthew Parkes of the Natural History Museum explains how West Clare is one of the few locations in the world where the oil industry can survey surface rock identical in composition to the rock found on the Gulf of Mexico seabed, under which there is believed to be potentially 48 billion barrels of undiscovered oil.

Dr. Parkes says the average deepwater well can cost $300 million which, in an effort to reduce costs, has resulted in the petroleum giants sending hundreds of industrial and academic researchers to Clare each year to conduct pre-drilling survey work.

“A look at the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Delta provides a realistic comparison for Clare 330 million years ago,” explained Dr. Parkes.

“Due to geological uplift the rocks displayed around the deltaic environment of Shannon Estuary and Clare coast today are comparable to what geologists and geophysicists are attempting to interpret from drilling exploratory wells. West Clare is one of the few places where such rocks are displayed on land, with three dimensional sections visible on the coast,” he added.

While Clare’s geology is delivering significant cost savings for oil companies, it is also carving out a niche tourism industry for the County. For example, a detailed feasibility study which features the drilling and examination of boreholes is presently being carried out in Clare by researchers from University College Dublin (UCD), supported by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and Statoil.

According to Dr. Parkes: “Following this study, it is envisaged that a geology centre where visiting groups can also examine these boreholes could be built in the area, thus growing the geotourism potential of West Clare, as well as providing more education and outreach opportunities.”

While Clare is fast becoming a popular learning ground for petroleum firms, the chances of discovering any oil deposits in the County are “non-existent”.

“Even though Clare’s rocks exhibit the characteristics of oil bearing rocks, there is no oil to be found here as the rocks were heated and fractured and lost any oil they may have had millions of years ago,” said Dr. Parkes.

‘Banner Rocks’, which is funded by Clare County Council, The Heritage Council, Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark and the GSI, also contains insight into some of the other world-famous geological features that define the County Clare landscape.

They include the Carran Depression, which is the largest karstic enclosed depression to be found anywhere in Ireland and Britain. Located between Corofin and Ballyvaughan, the depression is 4.5km in area and 40m deep.

Also featured is Clare’s rich representation of mushroom rocks or mushroom stones, of which there are only 70 known examples in Ireland. While previously thought to have been formed by former lakes, Dr. Parkes suggests their unique shape may have been caused by acid soils or acid bogs that have since been removed or which have shrunk away.

Meanwhile, the world-famous karst limestone landscape of North Clare and the Burren is also explored in detail as is the county’s network of caves, the majority of which were¬†¬† formed in the last 10,000 years when ice sheets covering the area melted away.

Launching the book at The Pavilion in Lisdoonvarna last night, Cllr. John Crowe, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council commented: “This publication not only accurately and comprehensively documents Clare’s unique geology but it is also testament to the many individuals and organisations that study and safeguard the geology of the County. It also supports the work of interest groups such as the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, the Burren Outdoor Education Centre, Geological Survey of Ireland and Natural History Museum in promoting the geological significance of the Clare landscape.”

“This book will serve as an excellent reference guide for academics and visitors to the county for many years to come. It helps to inform younger people in Clare about where they come from and about the unique landscape around them. It also serves to remind us that we are the guardians of this wonderful landscape. It is up to all of us to ensure that it is preserved, promoted and cherished for the benefit of future generations,” added Cllr. Crowe.

Clare Heritage Officer Congella McGuire explained that the foundation for “Banner Rocks” was set by the first county geological survey commissioned by Clare County Council and the Heritage Council, and completed in 2005 by Dr. Parkes, Claire McAteer and Scott Engering.

“County Clare has been in the making for over 450 million years. Formed from volcanic eruptions, the shells of ancient sea creatures and the sands and muds of long gone deserts and deltas, the rocks of Clare have since been buried, heated, folded and shattered as they were raised into mountains and eroded to give us the landscape we see today,” said Ms. McGuire.

“Diversity of geology sets the scene for the unique, diverse and beautiful landscape and seascape of County Clare. Geology underlies and influences the geomorphology, which is the foundation for the soils, drainage patterns, biodiversity and quality of farmland that we have inherited from our ancestors. In turn this has influenced our settlement and social history,” she added.

‘Banner Rocks – The Geological Heritage of County Clare’ is being made available free of charge while stocks last. Further information is available from asulllivan@clarecoco.ie.

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