Friday, 21 June 2013

Causeway Coast - To Frack or Not to Frack?

Temporary works of drilling exploratory borehole to approx 2700m depth to investigate underground strata for hydrocarbon exploration under DETI license PL3/10 issued to Rathlin Energy Ltd.  Also to temporarily widen road into verge along 60m of Kilmahamogue Road to facilitate safe access.

The Causeway Coast is labelled as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but wind turbines are sprouting up in ever increasing numbers and soon they could be joined by oil and gas rigs. Is there a risk that such a landscape for life could end up on life-support?

The Minister responsible for the issuing of extraction licences was in robust mood back in December 2011:

Some comments grabbed my attention:

It is important, therefore, that I emphasise that should these explorations prove fruitful, and lead to a wish to go further and try to extract this valuable commodity, the necessary application for drilling and developing oil or gas will be subject to the full rigour of the Planning system and associated Environmental Impact Assessment process.

In my opinion, the planning system is rather limp when it comes to rigour, even when modestly powerful interests are involved.

Not only might domestic shale gas production help to provide energy independence but it could play a significant role in job creation. I firmly believe that Northern Ireland needs to explore the potential that shale gas offers, to even consider imposing a moratorium at this early stage would reek of a missed opportunity.

Ministers will always wheel out 'job creation' but has there been an impact assessment on job creation in the round? Is it possible that a small forest of oil rigs alongside wind turbines might impact adversely on the tourism sector, another part of the Minister's brief? The 'reek of exploitation' was, perhaps not the best image for the Minister to use as a selling point.

The Minister for the Environment is drifting along in his colleague's wake - February 2013:

The public consultation will ensure that this programme of research delivers a thorough and robust examination of the issues. It is proposed to award funding for research in three areas:

  • Baseline Characterisation;
  • Fracking Operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;
  • Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection.

So which Minister will be the more robust at the Executive table?

The Green MLA paints a picture of the cart rolling along in advance of the donkey:

Officials from the Geological Survey today confirmed that licences granted for gas exploration are effectively contracts and any changes or the rescinding of the licences would be likely to result in legal action by the companies that they were issued to.

“So long as all the companies adhere to the requirements established in their licences, gas exploration and its associated Fracking cannot be stopped in Northern Ireland without legal ramifications for the Department. ..

It is clear that scientific investigations, public debate and scrutiny of gas exploration should have taken place before any of the licences were granted.

Here's a snippet from an email I received recently:

Rathlin Energy have now submitted their 2nd Planning Application for Ballinlea/North Antrim.

They are also calling two Public Meetings as part of this process:

Thursday 27th. June, Mosside Community Hall at 7 pm Friday 28th. June, Ballinlea Orange Hall at 7 pm.

At both of these meetings they will first have some display panels and info boards as well as key staff to talk, and after 8.00 pm they will make a formal presentation on their drilling plans "... including pictures & diagrams, in order to explain what we view as relevant issues to our planning application."

This will be followed by a question and answer session..... to conclude at 9.30 pm. aprx.

Ballinlea Concerned Residents have also called a meeting for Tuesday 25th. June in the Ballintoy Parish Hall, Whitepark Road at 8 pm. (Old school at the junction of Ballinlea & Whitepark Roads.) where we will have a presentation on the potential health impacts of Oil & Gas Exploration [pdf file] by Geralyn McCarron, followed by a discussion.