SDLP Minister rejects shale gas bore hole application

‘Deeply concerned’ Tamboran Resources now considering its response

Protestors pictured at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in County Fermanagh

Protestors pictured at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in County Fermanagh

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 02:07

Exploration company Tamboran Resources has expressed deep concern, after the rejection of its application to drill a shale gas bore hole near Belcoo, Co Fermanagh

Northern Executive SDLP Minister for the Environment Mark H Durkan turned down the application, which was to help establish if viable amounts of shale gas are present.

While opponents of fracking welcomed the decision, Tamboran, which believes there could be major reserves of shale gas in the cross-Border region around Fermanagh and Leitrim, said it would now consider its next move.

“Tamboran Resources is deeply concerned with the announcement made by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan. The company is currently reviewing its position and will release a further statement in due course,” a spokesman said in a short statement.

The company now has two main options: to legally challenge Mr Durkan’s decision, or to carry out an environmental impact assessment to try to demonstrate that drilling an exploratory bore would be environmentally safe. The latter option would put back the Tamboran project by a number of months at the very least.

Open mind

In an interview with The Irish Times, Dr Tony Bazley, Tamboran’s regional director who is based in Co Down, urged politicians and the public keep an open mind on shale gas extraction by fracking – the shattering of oil- and gas-bearing shale deposits by forcing down fluids and sand, thus releasing the gas.

He stressed drilling the proposed bore hole did not involve actual fracking.

“We do know that the gas is there, but not if it will be commercially viable. We believe the people and Government of Northern Ireland have a right to know if there are economic quantities of gas beneath our feet, and that is all we are seeking to do at this stage.”

The potential value of the shale deposits could not be known until the bore hole was drilled, but, said Dr Bazley, current estimates suggested gas worth £20 billion could be extracted over several years.

Licence for extraction

It would be for the DUP minister with responsibility for energy Arlene Foster – whose party is sympathetic to shale gas exploration – in consultation with the Northern Executive, to decide whether a licence for extraction should be granted. But first it was the responsibility of Mr Durkan of the SDLP, which opposes fracking, to decide whether permission for drilling the 750m deep, 15cm wide bore hole should be given.

Mr Durkan announced this afternoon that “after very serious consideration”, he had rejected the Tamboran application. He said he had concluded the development at the quarry near Belcoo required an official environmental impact assessment.

“In making this assessment I have been mindful of my department’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected at all times and that full consideration is given to any likely significant environmental impacts of such a proposal,” said Mr Durkan.

Protesters, who have been camped outside the quarry for weeks, welcomed the decision. An ecumenical service was held at the site this evening. Northern Ireland director of Friends of the Earth, James Orr, whose members have protested at the site, congratulated Mr Durkan on his decision.

“He is right to conclude that an environmental impact assessment is required and that exploratory drilling should not go ahead without planning permission,” he said.