An Irish oil and gas exploration and production company has been offered a petroleum exploration licence over Rathlin Island.
Providence Resources, which is listed on the AIM and Dublin's ESM, said it had been granted the licence following an application to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
The licence term is for five years but Providence has to make a decision on whether it will dig a well within three years.
Providence is to carry out technical studies on subsurface geology in the first three years to determine the petroleum potential before deciding on a well commitment.
Tony O'Reilly, chief executive of Providence, said: "We are delighted to be offered our first exploration licence in Northern Ireland.
Providence has a clear corporate focus to evaluate the hydrocarbon potential of the island of Ireland and this new licence over Rathlin complements our substantial Atlantic Margin and Irish Sea acreage portfolio.
As with all of our operated activities, Providence will adhere to the highest standards of environmental excellence and consult locally should we progress this licence into the drilling phase."