AMBITIOUS plans for development in the Port of Cork could lead to the creation of more than 100 jobs.
Hopes are growing that the €338 million deal will also have a knock-on effect on energy prices throughout Ireland, bringing oil and gas prices down for consumers.
The Port of Cork Company, together with two US-based companies, Next Decade and Flex, are aiming to bring natural gas from Texas to Whitegate, where it would be piped into the Irish gas network for distribution around the country.
The project would involve the construction of a jetty and associated piping in the port, which would be capable of linking up with a specialist ship, a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU).
At a briefing in Cork yesterday, it was suggested that the project could easily lead to the creation of more than 100 jobs. Initially, the building of the jetty would create construction work for an estimated six to 12 months.
Once up and running the facility would require significant supporting services: tug boats for deliveries, plus mooring, supplies and ship chandlery.
John Mullins, chairman of the Port of Cork and former chief executive of Bord Gáis, was keen to stress that the economic benefits of the development would go far beyond immediate job creation.
"Competition in gas provision is vitally important in terms of driving the cost of gas downwards," he said.
"The more competition you have the cheaper the gas is potentially going to be. They are not going to ship it across from west Texas without finding a market.
"Clearly, it is going to have an effect in terms of the competitiveness of the economy. The price of all of our electricity is pretty much set against the price of gas so that really is an important dimension to this."
The liquefied natural gas (LNG) process involves cooling natural gas until it is liquid, which takes up 1/600th of the space and then transporting it.
The LNG is then heated back to its original state at which point it can be added to the network. The type of FSRU vessel intended for Cork is just under 300 metres long and 45 metres wide. At full capacity, it could hold enough gas to supply the entire Irish market for a fortnight.
Early estimates suggest the project will cost $350-400 million dollars, between the cost of the jetty, pipeline and the FSRU vessel.
At a briefing, NextDecade CEO Kathleen Eisbrenner said the company would finance the development phase before looking elsewhere for support for the rest of the project. European funds may also be accessed if the project goes ahead.
The former Shell CEO also noted her own local roots. Her grandfather Daniel Collins emigrated from Cobh in the 1920s and is believed to have been from West Cork originally.
Meanwhile, the Port of Cork has also confirmed its purchase of the long-idle IFI site at Merino Point in Cobh.
The deal is a joint venture which will the shoreline site redeveloped for additional cargo handling and comes after years of trying to secure the strategic harbour-side facility.
A deal was finally struck with the receiver of the site, which has been unused since its closure some 15 years ago.
The Port of Cork and Lanber Holdings, a Co Wexford-based company, have purchased the site for a reported €6 million.
It will intially be used for the movement of cargo such as fertiliser and animal feed.