Is Rathlin Energy Ltd exploring for shale gas, or not?

Rathlin Energy director David Montagu-Smith has tried to allay the concerns of people in East Yorkshire, by saying that Rathlin Energy are not ‘Sneaky frackers’ (

We wonder if their plans for Yorkshire are different from their plans for the North Coast of Northern Ireland. When called upon at various public meetings to rule out fracking for shale gas in Counties Antrim and Derry/Londonderry, the company’s executives (including Mr Montagu-Smith) repeatedly refused to rule it out, saying that they had to explore all of the options for the licenced area (from Magilligan in the west, to Ballycastle in the east and as far south as Garvagh).

The company has applied to drill an exploratory well into the shale layer at Ballinlea in North Antrim under licence PL3/10. The original licences (click CE1-04 and CE2-04) under which their first well was drilled at Ballinlea in 2008, were specifically for the exploration of commercial Coalbed Methane and Shale Gas potential in the Rathlin Basin. (The licences were held originally by Rathlin Energy Ltd’s Canadian owner, Connaught Energy Ltd, and were transferred to Rathlin Energy Ltd in 2007.)

Those licences say:

“This Licence CE1/04 and licence CE2/04 form part of a single integrated exploration programme over the Rathlin Basin. The core elements of this programme are:

  • the development of a hydrocarbon system for the basin,
  • the drilling of one shallow well to provide core, from the Ballycastle Carboniferous coal and organic-rich shale section, that will be analysed for CBM [Coalbed Methane] potential,
  • the drilling of one exploration well, in the Rathlin Basin, to evaluate the Carboniferous section for commercial coalbed methane and gas shale potential,
  • the evaluation of the results from the above to produce a final prospectivity assessment of the licence areas.”

Minister Arlene Foster wrote in a letter responding to queries of local residents (via local MLAs) in November 2011: There may be some additional potential for ‘unconventional’ gas resources including shale gas in the onshore Rathlin Basin, and the Department would expect Rathlin Energy Ltd  to review this in their evaluation of the overall prospectivity of the licence. 

Despite their stated target being conventional oil and gas, Rathlin Energy Ltd’s proposed operational plan for Ballinlea includes drilling down into the shale layer (past the layers expected to contain conventional oil and gas deposits), and undertaking extended well testing using a variety of well stimulation techniques, including (if deemed necessary) dissolving the rock with hydrochloric acid (‘acid wash’ and ‘acid squeeze’), a mini fall-off test to check permeability of the rock, and conventional hydraulic fracturing, using sand, water, and ‘stimulation fluid’. These processes could be repeated at multiple intervals within the reservoir. This would provide information to the company on the viability of commercial extraction of the different types of gas or oil (conventional and unconventional) contained within different intervals or types of source rock (shale, sandstone, coal seams, etc.)

Even if Rathlin Energy Ltd IS exploring for conventional oil and gas, does this not ALSO sound like exploratory drilling for shale gas…the type of exploratory drilling which is necessary in advance of (high-volume) hydraulic fracturing? We think so.

Could, or would, you explore for shale gas without undertaking this type of exploration first? Not likely.

If your target was only conventional oil and gas, would you spend more money drilling deeper than necessary? Not likely.

Is Rathlin Energy Ltd exploring for shale gas? Can you really look at the evidence and say ‘no’?


More objections to the Ballinlea Well

Ballinlea the next Balcombe

Here are more objections to Rathlin Energy’s exploratory well planning application which you can use for your own letters:

Serious Health Concerns – A letter prepared by Dr. Geralyn McCarron – Letter from Dr McCarron April 2014

The official end-date for public consultation in this period is 17th April – BUT, you can continue to raise issues and send in your concerns after this date. Ballinlea residents have been told that they will still be considered right up until a decision is made about whether to grant planning permission or not, so please keep sending in your concerns and objections – it is not too late! 

Please note that Planning responses should go to Causeway Exchange 1- 7 Bedford Street Belfast BT2 7EG (no change in email address)


Object again to drilling at Ballinlea!

Rathlin Energy Ltd have finally submitted much more detailed information to the Planning Service (upon request) about what they intend to do at the proposed Ballinlea drilling site. It includes more detail about the processes including the Conventional Hydraulic Fracturing, Mini Fall-off test and Acid Squeeze test, and more information about the expected levels and directions of toxic emissions from the flaring of gas, which is particularly concerning to people living within half a mile.

There are 43 households within half a mile, and 140 within 2kms. Obviously if this industry was to progress, and high numbers of wells were to be developed, the effect would be cumulative and impact on a very high number of households, across a wide area.

Read below for how to see the information they have submitted, and how to object to the planning application.

Click this link to access all of the documents relating to Rathlin Energy’s Ballinlea planning application:
Key documents are:
  • You will see the company’s information mostly under “additional information”, and the most recent ones have a 20/03/2014 publication date. There is also a separate “drawings” folder and “mining waste management plan”.
  • Letters from the department to the company and to statutory consultees (other government agencies) are under the “supporting documents” folder and letters of objection (there are long ones and short ones) are under “representation letters”.
  • The planners and other government departments are not experts in this area – this type of planning application is new in the UK and especially new in Northern Ireland – so they need all the help they can get to determine whether the information being provided by Rathlin Energy is fully accurate, comprehensive, and doesn’t pose undue risks to environmental and human health.
  • We think the proposal does pose undue risk to environmental and human health and we think it is important to point out any new research or information to the people making the decisions about this.
Lodge your objections

Ballinlea Residents have prepared a simple objection letter for people to use to show they do not want this application to be approved:

Ballinlea Objection Letter April 2014 (word version)


Ballinlea Objection Letter April 2014 pdf (pdf version)

Please complete your name and address (not possible electronically in pdf versions, but you could rename the document to include your name if you plan to email it)

and either:

  • email to:


  • print out and post to (address on letter):

Mr Hamilton
Principal Planning Officer
Strategic Planning Division
Causeway Exchange, 1- 7 Bedford Street, Belfast BT2 7EG 

Please, if possible, adapt your letter/email to include your own points of objection.

If you’d like to also send your objection to MLAs, newspapers, councillors etc, please do. Here are some additional email addresses: , ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Thanks for your help.

Vanessa Vine coming to the North Coast!

Vanessa Vine, Founder of Frack-free Sussex, and Britain and Ireland Frack-Free (BIFF), is coming to the North Coast. She’s been meeting with anti-fracking campaigners across Ireland and Northern Ireland, and visiting areas that are at risk from unconventional hydrocarbon extraction – areas like the Rathlin Basin – i.e. most of Northern Ireland’s North Coast.

She will be sharing her campaigning experiences from Balcombe in Sussex, and other exploration sites, like Barton Moss, with local people here.

She will be speaking in Ballycastle at 7.30pm on Monday 7th April, in the Ferry Terminal.

Vanessa Vine Event

Infrastrata’s recently announced exploratory well in Co. Antrim—to be or not be?

A company called Infrastrata have recently obtained ‘permitted development’ rights to drill an exploratory borehole, in their Larne-Lough Neagh Basin licence area—starting and finishing within a four-month time period sometime between September 2014 and March 2015—but will the project ever get off the ground?

Infrastrata does not yet have:

  • a lease on the land it intends to drill
  • enough investment/funding, and
  • approval from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

A partner company, Nautical, pulled out of the joint venture when it was bought over by Cairn Energy plc, and so Infrastrata now need a new investor/partner to help finance the project. Their subsidiary company, Islandmagee Storage Ltd has recently been dealt a blow by BP Gas Marketing Ltd pulling out of the planned gas storage project at Islandmagee. These withdrawals of continued support cannot be helpful to the company’s plans. 

As news of the planning permission being granted under ‘permitted development’ rights has emerged, residents and environmental groups are appalled that such a project can be given this type of planning permission which bypasses public information provision, consultation, and independent environmental scrutiny. People who live nearby have not been given an opportunity to voice their concerns about the potential health impacts of exploratory drilling.

In Northern Ireland, Part 16 of Schedule 1 of the Planning (General Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 1993, allows ‘permitted development rights’ to apply to the drilling of exploratory boreholes for ‘Mineral Exploration’. This means that the normal planning approval processes do not apply, as long as certain limited conditions are met.

Questions must be asked, about whether it is still appropriate for Northern Ireland to include the drilling of exploratory boreholes for petroleum explorations as ‘permitted development’. England and Scotland have specifically excluded it from their equivalent legislation. The Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland) states that: “Generally, permitted development rights are applied to relatively minor non-contentious development”.

However, drilling exploratory boreholes for petroleum exploration cannot be described as either minor or non-contentious. The nature of onshore oil and gas explorations has changed markedly in the decades since this legislation was prepared. The technology and techniques used by the industry have become much more complex as the target rocks have become more difficult to access. Public knowledge of the potential health impacts of the fugitive emissions of toxic gases to the air as a result of drilling and/or flaring, potential water and ground pollution from loss of drilling fluid and toxic waste, have increased due to more public health research being undertaken and information being more readily available. 

The lack of public information, consultation or opportunity for participation in decision-making around such a project, which could have significant environmental and health consequences for the local community, and is likely to involve 24hr drilling with associated lighting and noise, surely contravenes at least two of the three pillars of the international Aarhus Convention—access to information, public participation and access to justice—to which the UK, including Northern Ireland, is a signatory.

It remains to be seen whether Infrastrata’s exploratory borehole will proceed…it obviously still depends on everything falling into place by September/October. The company, the DOE, NIEA, HSE and DETI can expect to hear some objections between now and then—particularly as the company is likely to want to explore for multiple types of oil deposits, including those in tight sandstones or source rock, requiring unconventional extraction methods such as the controversial high volume (slick-water) horizontal hydraulic fracturing.


Update! – 2014 and Rathlin Energy Ltd have STILL not provided planners with enough information

Believe it or not, Rathlin Energy’s planning application for an exploratory well at Ballinlea is still live.

Rathlin Energy Ltd, through their agent, Belfast-based RPS Group Planning Consultants, have still not provided sufficient, adequate, information to the planners, for them to be able to make a determination on whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be necessary for decision-making in this planning application.

The planners wrote to the company in November requesting significant additional information: Letter from DOE to RPS – 7 Nov 2013. They have since issued two extensions to the initial timeframe, with the latest deadline being 13th March 2014: Letter from Planning to RPS 15 Jan 2014.

The following documents were received from Rathlin Energy, via their agents, just before Christmas 2013:

More information is to come. Any new objections or concerns you may have about the information provided in these documents will be considered in the planning decision process, so please have a look and see whether there are specific objections you’d like to raise with the planning authority.

If so, please email them to:

or post to

Mr Hamilton
Principal Planning Officer
Strategic Planning Division
Millenium House
17-25 Great Victoria Street

Do you think this scale of project warrants an EIA? The legislation is here.

Once the Planners have all of the requested information from RPS/Rathlin Energy, they will have four weeks in which to determine whether an EIA is required. The public should also have some weeks to consider the new information provided by the company, and an opportunity to comment on that information, in March/April.


Ballinlea oil/gas well – not a ‘done deal’. The company has had to supply more information, and more time has been allowed for objections.


The planning application to drill an exploratory well at Ballinlea in Co. Antrim is no ordinary application. It has received extraordinary attention from the public – around 1000 of whom have sent in objections to the Planning authorities. Now there is a new opportunity to send new objections – until 26th September.

The application has been advertised again in a special notice (see below). Planning notification 29 Aug 2013

Rathlin Energy, the company wanting to drill down to explore the shale layer at Ballinlea, has provided (upon request) much more detail about their planned operation. They have now provided a detailed operational plan, setting out how the site would be modified, details about the number of trucks that would be required and a list of the chemicals they plan to use, with safety information about each one. All of the new information is available on the planning website, under ‘additional documentation’.

The public have 4 weeks from the date of publication to lodge new objections – that means people have until 26th September to look at the new plans and details and lodge new objections.

We would urge everyone to look carefully at these new plans to see the reality of what is being proposed – and consider what you can do to help stop this from happening, and spreading across the entire north coast area. You have probably seen the TV footage of the Balcombe villagers and their supporters rejecting similar exploratory drilling in Sussex. What will you do to protect your north coast from contamination and devastating industrialisation?

Join the concerned Ballinlea Residents on facebook and keep up to date.

Hundreds object to Ballinlea well – and there’s still time for more

Local residents at Ballinlea, Co. Antrim are encouraged by the hundreds of letters and emails being sent to the Strategic Planning Division of the DOE, objecting to the planning application submitted by Rathlin Energy Ltd to drill an exploratory well. Despite being the traditional holiday period, many people took the time to become aware of the risks associated with the proposed well and made their views known.

The company has been asked to provide more detail to the Strategic Planning Division by 9th August, on exactly what their operational plans are for the site, what chemicals they plan to use, what material would be leaving the site and where it would go, and how they plan to restore the site. Any extra information provided by the company will be shared on the public access planning website, and it is possible that the application will be advertised again for further public comment. (We will keep you informed!)

You can continue to lodge your objections right up until a determination is made on the planning application. At this stage, consider 9th August a deadline until we know more.

Please take some time to read the new objection letters loaded onto the post: Object to the Rathlin Energy planning application. The Friends of the Earth one is particularly interesting…e.g.:

“For the benefit of the public and the Department, the applicant should be required to set out exactly how, according to the EIA Regulations 2012, an EIA is not required, when they have subsequently felt the need to provide supporting environmental information.  The Department should also make clear whether it considers this accompanying environmental information to represent the submission of a voluntary environmental statement as the additional information requested in your letter dated 18 July 2013 fails to mention the EIA Regulations despite the fact that much of the detail required is very clearly environmental information normally required as part of the EIA process.  We are asking for a written answer to this specific point.”


Object to the Rathlin Energy planning application

Notice of the Rathlin Energy planning application (E/2013/0093/F)  to drill an exploratory oil/gas well was made in the Ballycastle Chronicle dated 11th July. It gave 14 days for submission of written comments. However, the company has been asked to provide more information by 9th August, and objection letters can be submitted until a determination is made, so please continue to lodge your objections. We will update this post as more information becomes available.

Please read and the objection letters below, to find out what is proposed and why residents are not happy about it.

An information leaflet and poster have also been prepared by the Ballinlea Residents Association. Please feel free to share them.

Ballinlea Residents Leaflet             Ballinlea Residents Poster

Sample Objection Letters

Here are some sample objection letters you can use, prepared by the Ballinlea Residents Group and others:

  1. First objection letter – short doc version or pdf version
  2. Second objection letter – comprehensive (& long) docx version  or  pdf version
  3. Third objection letter – wildlife focus doc version  or  pdf version
  4. Friends of the Earth NI objection letter – doc version or pdf version
  5. Health related objection letter (Dr Geralyn McCarron) – doc version or pdf version

Please complete your name and address (not possible electronically in pdf versions, but you could rename the document to include your name if you plan to email it)

and either:

  • email to:


  • print out and post to (address on letter):

Mr Hamilton
Principal Planning Officer
Strategic Planning Division
Millenium House
17-25 Great Victoria Street

More sample letters will be added which will include more detailed objections. You can send more than one version to the DOE – they understand that people may make a number of additional objections as new information comes to light.

Please feel free to adapt your letter/email to include your own points of objection.

If you’d like to also send your objection to MLAs, newspapers, councillors etc, please do. Here are some additional email addresses: , ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Thanks for your help.

Rathlin Energy planning application and information sessions – What next?

The planning application to drill a new exploratory well at Ballinlea has been submitted to the DOE, (see: and Rathlin Energy has held two information meetings with local residents (27th and 28th June).

What next?

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.


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!