Talks To Resume Over Oil, Gas Rights Around Atlantic Islet

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Negotiations among Ireland, the U.K., Iceland and Denmark will soon resume over their rival claims to oil and natural gas exploration rights around a remote Atlantic islet, the Irish government said.

The four countries have spent five years trying to strike a deal sharing rights to exploit the ocean shelf surrounding Rockall, a 75-foot-tall granite outcrop roughly between northwest Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and the autonomous Danish territory of the Faeroe Islands.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday's negotiations would take place at the Faeroese Representation Office in Copenhagen and run through Friday. Ireland will be represented by Foreign Affairs legal adviser Declan Smyth and Petroleum Affairs Division official Peter Croker.

"I hope tomorrow's talks are fruitful, but further meetings may well be required before we can strike a deal," Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said. "Ultimately, it is in the interests of all four countries that we come to an agreement on the issue."

Under U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 treaty accepted by all four countries, rights to Rockall's offshore deposits could depend on a country demonstrating that its own shelf is connected to the shelf of the remote islet.

Any agreement among the four claimants must be ratified by the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by a treaty-imposed deadline of May 2009.

But Ahern said he hoped the rivals could settle the dispute before then.

"The clock is ticking, and it is in no one's interests to prevent agreement in the long term," he said.

The U.K. and Ireland reached their own agreement on exploration rights in 1988, but Denmark and Iceland didn't accept it. All four countries have since done their own deep-sea surveys of the Rockall shelf, which exceeds 420,000 square miles.

Geologists say Rockall is the wave-battered remains of a volcano left behind when modern-day Greenland and Europe split apart about 55 million years ago. Rockall is 287 miles from mainland Scotland, its nearest neighbor.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.