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Energy firms drilling off Irish coast face tax rate hike to 80pc under new proposals

Lyndsey Telford - Irish Independent

ENERGY companies face a doubling of tax rates to 80pc for tapping into huge oil and gas fields off Ireland under proposed new rules.

The Government has been urged to hike offshore levies while radically improving work with local communities to prevent a repeat of the bitter Corrib dispute.

A committee examining the industry has called for a sliding scale of taxes from 40pc to 80pc for speculators that strike it rich.

The Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture said the best practice of countries like Norway should be looked at before a new regime was adopted.

Eamon O Cuiv, Fianna Fail TD, said hiking taxes while attracting investment was a balancing act.

"(We want) the best balance between attracting in investment and making sure that if there is a hydrocarbon field out there, that the Irish people benefit from that field," he said.

The cross-party committee said that Ireland's exploration and extraction tax rates were too generous compared with other countries, with some oil and gas companies paying as little as 25pc depending on their profit ratio. The existing top end of the tax scale is 40pc.

In 2005, Ireland was ranked lowest in government share of oil field profits with 25pc, compared with Norway - deemed to be the model of how the exploration industry can be managed - at 75.72pc. Nigeria topped the list, raking in a profit share of 112.08pc.

Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle, chairman of the group, said the proposed taxation system was "fair and equitable".

He also insisted it would not discourage potential investment, because the taxes suggested the regime in Ireland would still be much lower or at least in line with other countries.

"The committee's key concern has been to strike the appropriate balance between maximising State revenue with incentivising offshore oil and gas exploration, unleashing the benefits for Irish people as a whole," said Mr Doyle.

The committee said it was unable to put a figure on how much hiking the tax could actually bring into the Exchequer, because oil and gas reserves were unknown.

Tax placed on oil and gas exploration is a combination of corporation tax - at a rate of 25pc - and Profit Resource Rent Tax (PRRT), which is on a sliding scale depending on profits made.

The committee has proposed that the PRRT undergoes a phased increase, while corporation tax remains the same.

Companies that find nothing from their exploration do not have to pay tax - they just cover their own exploration costs.

The committee also recommended greater consultation with local communities.

This, it stated, would include contacting countries such as Norway and Portugal to ensure that all exploration opportunities were developed in line with international best practice.

This comes after years of campaigning from local communities in north Mayo, where Shell's Corrib gas project has created huge controversy.

Residents have taken issue with a pipeline coming onshore in a special area of conservation, arguing they are both unsightly and potentially dangerous given the volatile nature of the raw gas they carry.

Others have argued against the deal struck in the 1990s when the then Government was accused of having agreed terms with energy companies that were too generous.

Posted Date: 
11 May 2012