Sunday, 1 March 2015

Protect Our North Coast - An Urgent Appeal for Funds

[Click title to go to appeal site]

Project aim
To cover the professional fees of Environmental Consultants to respond to Rathlin Energy's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in relation to their application to drill into the shale at Ballinlea, in Co. Antrim, on Northern Ireland's North Coast. 

About the project
We urgently need your support to help pay for professional Environmental Consultants to analyse and respond to the EIA, to help in objecting to this drilling application. This must be stopped before it starts, otherwise we could see hundreds, if not thousands, of well pads all over the North Coast. The sooner you pledge the sooner we can instruct the consultants to go ahead and the deadline is looming.

An oil and gas company called Rathlin Energy Ltd has applied to the Planning Service to drill an exploratory oil/gas well at Ballinlea in Co. Antrim, N. Ireland, into the shale layer (Murlough formation) at a depth of 2700m. Their licence area (onshore Rathlin Basin) covers most of the spectacular North Coast from Ballycastle in the East, to Magilligan in the West, and south to Garvagh. They have said if successful they would like to drill 4 wells every square mile for oil. (Many more will be required if shale gas is to be extracted.)

The company has submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment report. Protect Our North Coast would like to engage Environmental Consultants to analyse this three volume report and prepare a professional response. 

The quoted fee is approximately £12,000 (incl VAT, but not expenses). We would like to raise at least £10,000 through this crowd-funding site [by March 12] to cover the bulk of the costs. [Over £4800 pledged already]

The proposed well site is located just 7 miles from N. Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant's Causeway, not far from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other designated sites, all in the licence area. The well would be half-way between the now infamous Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Harbour on the Games of Thrones tourist trail. The route for HGVs going to and from the site is along the narrow road at the top of the Dark Hedges, which is already difficult for tourists to navigate.

You can find the planning application and EIA documents on the planning portal at:

It does seem a little strange to me that the Environmental Impact Assessment is not being carried out independently under the direction of the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland.

Also, this ministerial reply does lack clarity as to the precise nature of the proposed drilling operation:

Q [9 Feb 2015]: To ask the Minister of the Environment whether the proposed mini fall off test in the shale reservoir included in planning application E/2013/0093/F under licence PL3/10 issued to Rathlin Energy Ltd, will provide information about the character of the shales that would be relevant to an assessment of their unconventional resource potential.

A: The Ballinlea No. 2 well is planned to test whether the oil found in a sandstone unit in the 2008 Ballinlea No. 1 well is an indication that there is a significant oil / gas accumulation nearby (at a geologically structurally higher level).

The proposed mini fall off test* will take place in the Carboniferous shale which lies beneath the target sandstone layer.  The fall off test measures how the pressure in a low permeability rock unit 'falls off' with time. It gives an estimate of the permeability in low pressure formations and is not a hydraulic fracturing process.

Currently, there is relatively little known about the deep geology of the Rathlin sedimentary basin and the distribution of Carboniferous shales is poorly understood, let alone their viability as an economic target for gas.

The exploration operations proposed by Rathlin will examine the Carboniferous shale, because these would be the source rocks for any oil discovered in the overlying sandstones and it is important for the company to understand their physical and chemical properties including their potential to have generated oil and gas in the geological past. No testing for shale gas will be carried out and the results of the mini fall off test will provide information about the shale properties but not constitute an assessment of the shale’s unconventional resource potential.

I can assure you that application E/2013/0093/F constitutes a conventional borehole and is not for the unconventional exploration of hydrocarbons and neither does it propose to use any unconventional testing techniques. The primary objective of the proposed Ballinlea No. 2 well is to test the Carboniferous conventional sandstone reservoir sequence at the new well location.

[* The mini fall off test is also known as the minifrac test. 'The results of a DFIT can be used to optimize a stimulation plan to get the most efficient frac design and to evaluate the effectiveness of a completion.  By performing a test before and after a stimulation job, the engineer will be able to evaluate just how effective their fracture was.' In this Rathlin Energy Crawbery Hill report [pdf file]:

A mini fall-off test is a short duration formation test designed to gather reservoir engineering data (characteristics and properties of the reservoir rock formation). The test is carried out to establish the pressure at which  injection of fluid occurs into the  formation and analyses how the pressure permeates through the formation over a given period of  time(usually 14 days). For clarity, the intention of the mini fall-off test is not to fracture the formation but to establish if and at what pressure the formation becomes permeable. The information gathered during the mini fall-off test will help determine whether the formation is capable of being hydraulically fractured. Hydraulic fracturing is not being considered as part of the application which this plan supports.

Perhaps the Minister should review his answer!]

There's also the impact on insurance and property values and this would suggest a question to the Minister for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development:

As oil and gas production – including fracking - is not a farming activity, we have included wording on our farm business policy to tell policyholders that their farm environmental liability insurance would not cover damage to other people’s property which they had caused by fracking or other oil and gas exploration or production."

Added March 2, 2015

On 6 December 2011, the Minister voted in favour of the following motion:


That this Assembly believes that a moratorium should be placed on the onshore and offshore exploration, development and production of shale gas by withdrawing licences for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), at least until the publication of a detailed environmental impact assessment into the practice; notes that hydraulic fracturing can put local water sources at risk of contamination; further notes that, amongst a variety of adverse environmental impacts, the process of fracking can cause serious well blowouts, which put both workers and local communities at risk; considers that the production of hard-to-reach fossil fuels is not compatible with efforts to achieve carbon reduction targets; and urges the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to give greater support to the generation of energy from renewable sources instead.

The DETI minister who issues drilling licences made the following comments during the course of this debate:

Ms Lo: I thank the Minister for giving way. As I said outside the Chamber, within the planning policy framework, do you think that we have the competence in DOE to have a full, rigorous and independent impact assessment?

Mrs Foster: Obviously, that is a matter for my colleague in DOE, but if he does not have the competence internally, he will have to look outside of DOE for that international competence. Under European regulations, we will have to carry out an environmental impact assessment that satisfies the European Commission. Therefore, the rigorous international engineering protocols will have to be met and dealt with.

The licence to explore for shale gas which has been issued in County Fermanagh — that seems to be the area that people are looking at most closely — does not permit the operator to do anything more than undertake desk studies and similar preparatory work. Construction works, deep drilling, fracking and similar major activities must and will be subject to planning and many other safeguards. I would not have that any other way.

Why then is the DOE minister putting those with concerns at the expense of challenging a non-independent environmental impact assessment?