Fracking in Northern Ireland
There are no plans to introduce special measures to develop shale gas and oil in Northern Ireland unlike Great Britain, but since 2011 the NI Government wishes to develop natural gas production.
Northern Ireland is a devolved part of the United Kingdom and has its own parliament and government in Belfast. There are 1,810,000 people in Northern Ireland; 70% of the economy’s revenue comes from the service sector and 1% from tourism.
The majority of Northern Ireland’s energy comes from fossil fuels. Coalfields have not been mined since the 70’s. The two main power stations are powered by natural gas and Northern Ireland is served by large gas pipelines from Scotland. This gas originates mainly from the North Sea reserves, now approaching depletion.
In 2011, four hydrocarbon licenses were awarded in Northern Ireland by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI). The licences were signed off by the DUP Minister Arlene Foster. Exploration well was drilled in Woodburn Forest but no oil was found. One licence was also awarded by Westminister for the off-shore area around Rathlin Island.
The four areas, the companies involved and the situation in December 2014 was as follows:
1. Fermanagh (Tamboran Resources): The plan to drill a deep borehole in July was aborted. The Minister for Environment, Mark H. Durkan, ruled that an Environmental Impact Statement would be required for the drilling site. This was followed by a ruling from Minister Arlene Foster that their licencing period had expired and their exploration licence was cancelled.
2. Rathlin Island (Providence plc): The plan to explore for conventional gas/oil off the coast was cancelled in …., due to “lack of prospective possibilities”
3. Rathlin Basin: Rathlin Energy is focusing on Ballinlea, an area near to Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway, where a well was drilled in ….. The local council have demanded an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Health Impact Assessment before allowing further drilling. These are now due and the company has published plans for drilling in Spring 2015.
4. Larne Basin: Infrastrata is focussing on an 4-acre site on the outskirts of Carrickfergus, 10 miles from Belfast, and 400 metres from a water reservoir bring water to North Belfast as well as Carrickfergus. Infrastrata claim that their proposed drilling is exploratory and therefore does not need planning permission. They also plan to start drilling in Spring 2015.
There is no difference between licences issued for conventional or unconventional hydrocarbon. The Northern Ireland authorities are only empowered to award onshore oil and gas licences; maritime space is under the control of the authorities in London. In August 2014, the NI Minister of Environment declared that fracking could not take place in Northern Ireland without further evidence of safety however this statement is not supported by legislation.
The projects in Belcoo, Ballinlea and Rathlin Island (on-shore) are not progressing further. In the offshore area around Rathlin Island, the company Providence Resources expects to test drill soon. Despite opposition to the Woodburn Forest project, the company InfraStrata drilled an exploratory well in May 2016.
In June 2016?, we learned that oil or gas was not found in Woodburn Forest, north of Belfast, but future wells could be drilled in the licence area.
* In Northern Ireland, all licences granted were Exploratory Licences, which allow deep test drilling and, in the case of Fermanagh, hydraulic fracturing.
29th June 2010: Department of Energy, Trade and Trade (NI) published a Notice in the Official Journal of the European Union announcing the availability of all of onshore Northern Ireland for Petroleum Licence applications
February 2011: Five-year Exploratory Licence granted to Rathlin Energy Ltd. for the Rathlin Basin, which includes part of counties Antrim and Londonderry-Derry. This licence allows the company to “search for and bore for and get” petroleum (which includes gas).
February 2011: Five-year Exploratory Licence granted to P.R.Singleton Ltd. for on-shore and off-shore exploration of Rathlin Island area in County Antrim. This licence allows the company to “search for and bore for and get” petroleum.
March 2011: Five-year Exploratory Licence granted to Infrastrata plc and eCORP Oil and Gas UK Ltd. for Central Larne-Lough Neagh Basin, which includes part of County Antrim. This licence allows the company to “search for and bore for and get” petroleum.
April 2011: Five-year Exploratory Licence granted to Tamboran Resources for Lough Allen Basin North, West Fermanagh. This licence allows the company to “search for and bore for and get” petroleum but also includes permission for “coring, fracturing, multiple horizontal legs, flow testing and seismic monitoring”.
2014: Deadline for decision to “drill or drop”.
2016: Exploratory Licences expire. Applications for full Petroleum Production Licences must be made before or during 2016, unless the exploratory period is extended.
* Policy: “DETI has identified security of energy supply as a major issue for Northern Ireland’s economy with its heavy reliance on imported natural gas and oil, and the discovery of indigenous supplies of oil or gas could be very important in this respect.” (source DETINI)