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!

Local Residents Call Public Meeting – 25th June 2013

Residents from Ballinlea have organised a meeting (Tues 25th, 8pm, Ballintoy Parish Hall, Whitepark Road (junction with Ballinlea Rd), to give local people an opportunity to discuss the latest developments in local oil and gas explorations, and to hear from visiting expert Dr Geralyn McCarron, about possible health impacts from oil and gas exploration – drawing on her first hand experiences working as a GP and health impacts researcher in Australia. (Read her latest study here: Symptomatology of a gas field [An independent health survey in the Tara rural residential estates and environs] (April 2013), and a new report she recommends by Doctors for the Environment Australia on the resource industry and human health: DEA_-_The_Health_Factor_05-13)

Public meeting re possible health impacts of exploratory drilling in Ballinlea and north coast (1) (1)

The company (Rathlin Energy) that holds a petroleum exploration licence for the whole north coast area of Northern Ireland (from Ballycastle to Limavady, and inland to Garvagh), is currently seeking planning approval to drill a second exploratory well at Ballinlea in Co Antrim. (They have indicated that they may need to drill multiple wells to extract the oil they think is there.) See:
PLEASE NOTE: This Tuesday night meeting should not be confused with the two information evenings being run on Thursday (27th) and Friday (28th) by Rathlin Energy, in Mosside Community Centre, and Ballinlea Orange Hall respectively, for local residents. (Some residents in the Ballinlea area have received letters from the company about these events which will provide more detail about the company’s intended drilling operation, and issues related to their current planning application.)