Locals unite in condemnation of gas drilling plans

 

The atmosphere was heated and the tone angry at the exploration firm’s information night

IF THE company which intends to drill for gas in the Lough Allen basin was under any illusions about the scale of opposition to their plans, they will have been entirely disabused at a public meeting this week.

The atmosphere was very heated and the tone angry and frequently rancorous at a packed ballroom in the Bush Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim

At least 500 people turned up for a meeting on Wednesday night which was scheduled to last two hours and continued for 4½ hours. It was billed as an information meeting by Tamboran Resources, the Australian-based company which has a licensing option to explore for natural gas in the area, but the information they received, in turn, from local people was not what they would have hoped for.

The company wants to use a process called “fracking” to liberate gas from huge levels of shale and sandstone deposits in the area.

Earlier estimates suggest there are 9.4 trillion cubic metres of gas in the area, or 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

It is worth €120 billion at current oil prices. Tamboran hopes to recover about 10 per cent of that.

The fracking process involves pumping a mixture of high- pressure water, sand and chemicals into rocks deep underground to fracture them and liberate gas deposits.

The process has been blamed for water contamination in the United States.

The company spoke about a “£6-£7 billion investment” (€6.84-€8 billion) employing 700 people over the next 30 to 50 years with double and up to four times that number indirectly employed.

The sheer scale of the potential operation was revealed by Tamboran chief executive Richard Moorman.

The area being targeted covers 100,000 acres around Manorhamilton, Glenfarne and Ballinaglara, in which there would be 100 well pads, each capable of drilling up to 16 wells.

He estimated that 1,000 wells could be drilled.

He also undertook to repeat the promise that no fracking chemicals would be used in the process, a world first.

“I will make it clear that if hydraulic fracturing does not work without chemicals, this project will stop immediately,” he said.

His message of an open, transparent process was lost on the audience members, who appeared to have made up their minds already.

Speaker after speaker condemned the company, to loud applause.

Kila musician Rossa Ó Snodaigh who has been living in north Leitrim for five years, told the executives “just go, you will destroy this country”.

Local historian Des Guckian compared Tamboran to speculators who bought up cheap land after the Famine.

Two of the most powerful interjections were from local councillors.

Independent councillor Gerry Dolan, who lives on the shores of Lough Allen, said poor farmers locally were “dirt in the eyes” of the company.

Fianna Fáil councillor Francie Gilmartin said a local couple could not get planning permission to build a house on the shores of Lough Allen but “ye can cement half of Lough Allen and it doesn’t matter”.

“Screw the little fellow and let the big fellow get bigger.”

Aideen McLoughlin sounded emotional when she said the scale of the operation would turn rural north Leitrim into an “industrial zone”.

“Communities here go back hundreds of years. You definitely should think again.”

At one point, four protesters carrying placards converged behind the table at which the Tamboran executives sat.

Throughout the trenchant criticisms, Mr Moorman tried his best to remain emollient and unflappable.

“I appreciate your comments. It does not sound that you are short of people who echo them,” he said with some understatement to one protester.

Tamboran has promised to conduct a formal consultation process in a year.