Belcoo bore hole is a first step to ‘drill or drop’ decision
Tamboran director is trying to sell fracking to the people of Ireland
Dr Tony Bazley, regional director of the exploration company Tamboran: “We would ask for people to keep an open mind and make a decision based on the facts, not misinformation.”
Dr Tony Bazley is the regional director of the exploration company Tamboran based in Co Down who has the task of trying to sell shale gas exploration to the people of Ireland. A former director of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland he, like the DUP Minister for Energy Arlene Foster, appeals for calm, fair and objective assessment.
Bazley must realise that if viable amounts of shale gas are found to be under the ground in Fermanagh, Leitrim, Cavan, Sligo, Roscommon and Donegal, that persuading the people on both sides of the Border, then the Northern Executive and Irish Government respectively, to accept and permit gas extraction, will be difficult.
As he says, it is a “couple of years” away before fracking – the shattering of oil and gas-bearing shale deposits by forcing down fluids and sand, thus releasing the gas – could take place. “We are only at the fact-finding stage,” he says.
First, it is for SDLP Minister for the Environment Mark H Durkan to decide whether to grant permission to Tamboran to drill a single 750m-deep, 15cm-wide bore hole at the Tamboran quarry outside Belcoo in west Fermanagh beside the border with Cavan and Leitrim. That decision is imminent.
If it is established from that bore hole that the find is viable, it will be for Ms Foster to decide whether to grant the go-ahead for fracking. She said she would make her decision in consultation with all of the Northern Executive.
In the Republic, no decision will be made until after a study by the Environmental Protection Agency is completed in 2016. However, as Bazley also realises, this is a critical moment, the time when Tamboran must decide whether to “drill or drop” the project.
He must also realise that there is a strong popular movement that opposes fracking. This is powerfully demonstrated by the anti-fracking protest group camped outside the razor-wired quarry gates near Belcoo.
That opposition is bolstered by the fact Sinn Féin, which has an effective veto in the Executive, is opposed to fracking, as are the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance. The DUP is the party most disposed to fracking.
So, how can Bazley have any hope of winning the hearts and minds of the anti-frackers? “We would ask for people to keep an open mind and make a decision based on the facts, not misinformation,” he replies. “We recognise there are some people who do not want to hear what we have to say, but we believe the vast majority of people feel they do not yet know enough to be able to make a balanced judgment.
“This is completely understandable and rational as we don’t yet know if the gas is there and if it is commercially viable,” he adds. “Since we announced our interest in Northern Ireland, we have been inundated with several hundred CVs and approaches, all unsolicited, mostly from local people looking for work which in itself tells a compelling story.
“Of course we will never be able to satisfy everyone but I think by and large the majority of people want to know more before being able to make up their mind.”
Dr Bazley, when tabling the potential benefits of extraction, provides some clarity on what the actual gas field could be worth. That cannot be known to any real degree until the bore hole is drilled but he offers: “The independent reserves report produced in 2012 estimated recoverable reserves of 3.2 trillion cubic feet, which amounts to approximately £20 billion at current gas prices.”
That is considerably less than some of the current £50-£100 billion but still big bucks. Bazley, referring more specifically to Northern Ireland, says that if feasible, the benefits are major.
He lists them: “Up to 50 years of secure gas supply for Northern Ireland; billions of pounds of investment leading to billions in tax revenues; approximately 600 local jobs directly. We anticipate over 2,400 jobs indirectly will be created covering a wide range of sectors including tourism, hospitality, supply services and the construction industry. Potentially cheaper energy prices for consumers in Northern Ireland.
“In the long run it will surely be cheaper and more environmentally friendly to take gas several hundred feet below us than from several thousand miles away.
“A local, secure energy supply will help attract inward investors who value energy security. There would also be a substantial community fund potentially running to millions of pounds each year to the benefit of all.”
The opponents of fracking are hugely sceptical of these figures and generally insist that it is impossible to extract shale gas safely.
Bazley responds: “Let me be very clear about this, Tamboran will not do anything that would or could damage the local environment. If we cannot demonstrate that we could extract the shale gas safely, then we will not be allowed to do so. If we, as a company, do not believe that we can extract the gas in a safe and secure manner, then we will simply not seek to proceed.”