The planning application to drill a new exploratory well at Ballinlea has been submitted to the DOE, (see: http://epicpublic.planningni.gov.uk/PublicAccess/zd/zdApplication/application_detailview.aspx?caseno=MOMY19SV30000) and Rathlin Energy has held two information meetings with local residents (27th and 28th June).
Once the planning application has been publicly advertised in newspapers (this week), it is expected that people will have about 2 weeks to submit any objections to the proposed development. The details of the application, including any environmental or other assessments completed by the company should be made available shortly on the DOE Planning website (see link above).
A template letter will be published on this website within the next week, which can be used as a basis for making objections.
WHAT ARE RATHLIN ENERGY’S INTENTIONS??
It was made clear by Rathlin Energy, at their meetings with local residents, that they intend to explore the presence and viability of all hydrocarbons (oil and gas, conventional and unconventional) within this new well, should their planning application be successful. They were at pains to point out in their information sessions that this exploratory well would be drilled conventionally, to target conventional oil and gas, and would not use hydraulic fracturing. They also said that they would be drilling deeper than the region of expected conventional deposits, into the shale layer to take a ‘sample like an apple-core’ which would be sent away for testing. This would also take them through a sandstone layer which might well be tight sandstone and possibly through a deep coal seam layer (not to be confused with shallower coalbeds).
Shale, tight sandstone, and coal seam layers all tend to contain unconventional oil and gas deposits which require unconventional extraction methods.
Rathlin Energy representatives tried very hard to impress upon their audience that they were only doing this extra bit of exploration (to the deep shale layer) to add to the knowledgebase about the geology of the area…not because they may actually want to extract shale oil or gas should they find some. They did not, however, convince anyone at the meeting. And despite their attempts to suggest that this level of exploration was required by DETI, there is no such obligation placed on them by DETI.
The company also attempted to suggest that they were applying for full planning permission because they were being good corporate citizens, and wanted to provide local people with more complete additional information than strictly necessary, because (they said) they could have simply drilled their exploratory well under ‘permitted development’ which allows for exploratory drilling to take place as long as it is started and finished within a 4 month period. (This was the case for the Ballinlea 1 well.) However it became clear, and in fact was stated by company representatives at their meeting, that Rathlin Energy did not think they would be able to fit their explorations into a 4 month period, and so, rather than be in legal breach of a ‘permitted development’, they needed to apply for full planning permission.
The company provided mixed messages about what would happen beyond this next exploratory well. It all depends of course on what they find. The number of wells required to extract conventional oil might be 4 per square mile, while for conventional gas it may be slightly fewer. They revealed they had identified 5-6 areas where there may be conventional oil and or gas. They did not wish to focus on unconventional extraction for obvious reasons…it is not popular with locals and could create further opposition to their activities…but they did suggest that the shale layer could sit under their entire licence area – shale gas production areas tend to require about 1 well every square km.
No well drilling is without risks, but as the presentation by Dr Geralyn McCarron highlighted at the recent Ballinlea Residents Group public meeting, where there are numerous wells there is evidence of a cumulative effect operating on the risks of contamination, and on the negative impacts on human health (as well as impact on the environment). This is of great concern to many local residents who do not want to see any oil or gas company going into production in this area, and therefore, do not want to see permission being given to drill an exploratory well, especially so close to (i.e. within a few hundred metres of) some of their homes.
Residents were particularly concerned by the admission by Rathlin Energy representatives, that although they were reassuring everyone about the safe nature of the chemicals they would be using in their drilling, they did not actually know what chemicals would be used, because that decision would be made by a different company (either the company that designs the well, or the company that does the drilling (both subcontractors)).
Also disconcerting was the fact that on the one hand the company reassured the audience that hydraulic fracturing was a safe practice that had been used for 50 to 60 years in the UK, while on the other hand they reassured us that DETI and the government wouldn’t allow them to frack until the appropriate regulations were in place, and that the UK government was just now in the process of developing regulations (even though we know that fracking has already taken place in the UK…).
They were very informative information sessions!