So Rathlin Energy has gone…for now. They did leave things nicely open for themselves, or someone else, to return. They didn’t leave as a result of a refused planning application. They might have, if they’d hung in there a bit longer.
The fact is that they left when the ball was firmly in their court. The planners had sent them a list of questions (in August) to answer about their Environmental Impact Assessment, and they had until 25th November to answer them. (This was not the first list of questions they’d had to answer in this application process.) They chose to leave instead.
What are we to take from this? Why did they not just answer the questions? It is understood their licence would have required an extension in order for them to do the work, as it was due to expire early in 2016, but why not just apply for an extension?
Perhaps they were concerned that an extension would not be granted…based perhaps on the previous DETI minister’s decision to refuse an extension to Tamboran’s licence in 2014 for Fermanagh…
We can only speculate.
The timing of their withdrawal is interesting. It comes only a few weeks after the Environment Minister’s announcement that there would be a presumption against unconventional hydrocarbon extraction in Northern Ireland until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts.
Regardless of their motivations, Rathlin Energy Ltd has been quite clever. A planning refusal now would make it difficult to come back later. They have left the site free for future planning applications. The community will need to keep watch.
Rathlin Energy Ltd has terminated its petroleum licence and withdrawn its planning application to drill a second well at Ballinlea. (See statement.) It is a wonderful outcome for all the residents who opposed the well, and all those who supported and helped their campaign.
In response to the news, the Protect Our North Coast Group (PONC) released the following statement:
“It is with great relief that we welcome Rathlin Energy Ltd’s decision to terminate their Petroleum Licence (PL3/10) for the Rathlin Basin, and withdraw their planning application to drill an exploratory well into the shale layer at Ballinlea.
The company cited a number of reasons for their decision—depressed world oil prices, unforeseeable delays in the planning approval process, and a lack of suitable conditions in Northern Ireland. Their licence was due to expire early in 2016 and they would have had to extend it in order to complete the planning process, and their drilling plans.
Questions have been raised in Europe around the petroleum licencing system in Northern Ireland, which, unlike that in the rest of the UK, has not been subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)—and therefore offers less protection for the people of Northern Ireland. SEA is something that campaigners here will continue to lobby for before any more petroleum licences are awarded.
We can only speculate about the timing of Rathlin Energy’s announcement, coming so soon, as it does, after Minister Durkan’s announcement that there would be a presumption against unconventional hydrocarbon extraction in Northern Ireland Planning Policy. Campaigners have long believed that Rathlin Energy’s explorations could lead to unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) along the North Coast, and so are delighted that they have decided to terminate their licence at this time.
In terms of the planning process for this application, certainly there have been delays—but these have largely resulted from a lack of comprehensive information provided by the company and their representatives to the Planning Service, in order to enable them to make a decision. The information provided with the application as been inadequate since the initial application in 2013.
The Protect Our North Coast (PONC) Group is pleased that the company has decided to withdraw, particularly as they had indicated that they would “not be able to function” if they were “at odds with the local community”— Over many meetings the feelings of the community were clear and witnessed in particular by the vote in April 15 in Ballinlea Community Hall when local people unanimously passed a motion expressing their opposition, and after which PONC asked Rathlin Energy to withdraw their application.
Despite the relief that Rathlin Energy has terminated its licence, the campaign will not end completely. There are other aspects of the campaign which need to continue. There is still a threat to the North Coast from at least one off-shore petroleum licence near Rathlin Island, issued by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change—and the Northern Ireland system around petroleum licencing and planning approvals requires some improvement.
But for now, the PONC group is happy to have witnessed this wonderful moment and would like to thank everyone who supported our campaign and to those who voiced their concerns and objections. We believe that their contribution to the planning process has helped to protect the north coast area from an industrial development which posed grave risks to public and environmental health.”
North Coast campaigners are continuing to oppose Rathlin Energy’s application to drill an exploratory well into the shale layer at Ballinlea. The Protect Our North Coast (PONC) group, composed of local Ballinlea residents and residents from the wider Rathlin Basin licence area (licence PL3/10), has been campaigning strongly against the proposal for some time now, and more information is available on the group’s website, facebook page and twitter feed (details below).
The group has secured strong cross-community support among local people as well as at all levels of political representation, local and national. At a recent meeting (26th May 2015) the newly formed Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council heard from PONC and all parties expressed support for the group’s work – they were particularly concerned to ensure the health of local people. The group has the support of local MLAs from all parties.
Not only has PONC been holding public meetings to raise awareness about the proposed well, the detail of the application, and the associated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Statement (ES)…they also ran a crowdfunder, raised over £10,000, and engaged consultants to review Rathlin Energy’s EIA/ES. The consultants identified a number of inadequacies in the documentation provided by Rathlin Energy, or rather by their agents, RPS. Links to their documents are included on the PONC website.
The application is still with the Strategic Planning team of the DOE at head office in Belfast, despite planning powers being devolved to the new local authorities on April 1st. No doubt the application has been retained by head office because it is complex, contentious, and of regional significance, or at the very least, because it has the potential, according to the consultants, of causing significant environmental impacts if allowed to proceed. One of the consultants even went as far as to say that approval of the application in its current form would be unlawful.
The PONC group will be addressing the CCGBC again on 22nd June in a dedicated workshop on the subject. It is understood that Rathlin Energy will also be addressing the Council at that workshop, to present their different perspective on their proposals.
• You can find out more from Protect Our North Coast at:
Fracking with Nitrogen is one of the processes proposed by Rathlin Energy Ltd in its operations summary for a new exploratory well at Ballinlea.
Here is a video of a Nitrogen frac in action at a vertical shale well in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The cameraman seems to think that it is an acceptable industrial operation to undertake in a ‘residential’ area…
Providence Resources UK Ltd has confirmed to DETI as of yesterday (12th August 2014), that the company has decided to relinquish its Petroleum Licence, PL5/10, which covers Rathlin Island.
Providence’s decision to relinquish the Licence is based on the ‘lack of significant prospectivity identified in the licence area.’
However, the company continues to hold a Petroleum Licence granted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change for offshore in the Rathlin Sound, posing grave risks to the coastlines of Rathlin Island, our whole north coast, and the Scottish west coast.
Rathlin Energy Ltd continue to hold their onshore licence (PL3/10) for the mainland Rathlin Basin, extending from Ballycastle in the east, to Magilligan in the west, and as far inland as Garvagh.
Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durkan, has rejected Tamboran Resources Ltd’s assertion that they could drill an exploratory borehole in a quarry in Belcoo, Fermanagh under Permitted Development Rights (PDR).
“The Department of the Environment received notification from Australian Mining Company Tamboran of their intention to drill a core of rock from Cleggan Quarry, Belcoo on 21 July 2014. The company sought confirmation that this work could be carried out under current permitted development rights without the need for full planning permission as part of their ongoing exploration into the viability of extracting shale gas by means of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in County Fermanagh.
Minister Durkan stated: “I have given very careful consideration to Tamboran’s proposal to drill a core of rock from Cleggan Quarry near Belcoo and whether this is permitted development under current legislation. I have concluded that this is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) development requiring full planning permission and that permitted development rights do not apply. 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 give to any likely significant environmental impacts of such a proposal.
“I have concerns that this is an existing quarry where unauthorised extraction has taken place. I believe there is insufficient information to establish what environmental impacts may have already arisen as a result of these unauthorised activities. Therefore, it is not possible to assess the environmental impact of the drilling cumulatively with other unknown environmental impacts of unregulated activity.
“In arriving at this decision I believe I must proceed on the basis of a precautionary principle. This principle establishes that a risk exists if it cannot be excluded on the basis of objective information and in the case of doubt as to the absence of significant effects then a full Environmental Assessment should be carried out. I have therefore concluded this is EIA development requiring full planning permission with an accompanying Environmental Statement and current permitted development rights do not apply.” “
“Notes to editors:
Tamboran Resources were granted a Petroleum Licence by DETI in 2011 in relation to their proposals to explore the viability of extracting shale gas by means of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in County Fermanagh.
Under current planning Legislation there are certain permitted development rights under Part 16 of the Planning (General Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 1993 (as amended) in relation to Mineral Exploration including drilling boreholes.
Permitted development rights do not apply to the extraction of any hydrocarbons.
In considering the issue of permitted development in such cases DOE must determine whether or not the development would constitute EIA development under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations. If any development proposal is considered to have likely significant environmental impacts then it is development requiring full planning permission to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement and permitted development rights do not apply.
If any development is deemed to be EIA development under the Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment ) Regulations 2012 then permitted development rights do not apply.
DOE is considering retrospective planning applications for the unauthorised development carried out at Cleggan Quarry but is not yet in a position to finally determine them.
For media queries contact the DOE Press Office on 028 9025 6058. Out of office hours, call the Executive Information Service’s Duty Press Officer on 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.”
Tamboran Resources Ltd, the Australian-owned company with a petroleum licence for the Lough Allen Basin, are right now preparing to drill an exploratory borehole at a quarry just outside Belcoo in Co. Fermanagh. They moved in and put up security fencing with razor-wire in the early hours of July 21st when people were sleeping. Find out more from the links under ‘Stay up to date’, below.
Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durken is due to make a decision shortly about whether the drilling will be allowed to go ahead. You can join with hundreds of others in opposing this drilling by clicking here or the link below under ‘Action you can take’, and sending an email to the Minister, asking him to do the right thing.
The consultation documents for each of NI’s three river basin districts refer to the risks posed by mineral extraction and refer to unconventional gas exploration and extraction. They all say the same thing. Here is an extract from the North Eastern River Basin District consultation document, p31. [emphasis added].
“Pollution of surface waters can occur as a result of run-off from the land area around a quarry or mine, hydrocarbon or herbicide spills, excess herbicide or fertiliser applications, run-off from soil and spoil heaps which may contain toxic metals and phosphates. Pollution of surface waters can also occur indirectly by pollutants being transported in groundwater.
Mineral extraction by its very nature poses risks to groundwater.Removal of the overlying land in the working area means that the vulnerability of the groundwater to pollution is increased as the natural protection is removed. Therefore, it is important that proper precautions are taken to ensure the risk of pollution is minimized. Pollutants may include oils, fuels and hydraulic fluids, metals (for example, Cadmium, Mercury), pesticides, flocculants used in settlement ponds and nutrients.
Unconventional gas exploration and extraction refers to the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of previously impermeable rock to permit the extraction of natural gas on a commercial scale from unconventional sources such as shale gas deposits, coal seams and tight sandstones. At present, there is no exploratory or commercial drilling underway in relation to this in Northern Ireland.
What are we already doing about this?
New legislation was introduced through the Planning Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 which requires the initial review of old mineral permissions. Mineral mapping has been undertaken to highlight where specific reserves are located, what type they are and what constraints exist in the form of environmental designations. Northern Ireland Government Departments, through the shale gas Forum, are in the process of identifying the regulatory framework applicable to onshore oil and gas exploratory activities in Northern Ireland, andthe linkages between the existing regulatory regimes.Such activities may include high volume hydraulic fracturing.As part of the planning process, NIEA requests hydrological risk assessments for quarries, to assess risks from dewatering and how they can be mitigated. NIEA provides guidance notes for applicants.
Possible options that could be put in place?
Significant all-Ireland research project to be scoped that will contribute to providing the evidence base for the regulation of fracking.”
Neagh Bann River Basin District – Ballinderry, Moyola, Lough Neagh, Lower Bann, Braid and Main, Six Mile Water, Upper Bann, Blackwater and Carlingford & Newry
People can respond to this consultation at a general or local catchment level.
The consultation questions are the same for each area:
1. What do you consider to be the most significant issues affecting the water
environment in the North Eastern [or other] River Basin District?
2. What do you consider to be the most significant issues affecting the water
environment in your Local Management Area?
3. How do you think these issues should be addressed, and what would you choose to do first?
4. Are there any projects that we could work on in partnership to help improve the water environment in North Eastern [or other] River Basin District?
Here is a very simple response you can use as a template, although putting it in your own words would help: (A more detailed version will be added later.)
This consultation is open from the 22nd December 2013 to 22nd June 2014. You can respond by :
• sending a response by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
• sending a written response to: River Basin Planning – Consultation, Water Management Unit DOE NIEA 17 Antrim Road Tonagh Lisburn BT28 3AL