Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island, lying off Antrim’s Causeway Coast, has a rare, untamed beauty. Amidst the rugged landscape of this isolated island, you can let your mind wander and discover a tranquility and beauty that is so unexpected.

At the west of the island is the renowned RSPB Seabird Centre, where puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes can be viewed during the summer months. It is also home to some magnificent views, on clear days Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre can be seen. Throughout the year special occasions are celebrated with ceilidhs. Music, song and dance remain at the heart of the community life.

Puffin, image by Clive Timmons

Puffin, image by Clive Timmons

Rathlin Island is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, with a rising population of now just over 100 people. The reverse L-shaped island is 4 miles (6 km) from east to west, and 2.5 miles (4 km) from north to south. The highest point on the island is Slieveard, 134 metres above sea level. The island is 15.5 miles (25 km) from the Mull of Kintyre, the southern tip of Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula.

Rathlin Island is a Special Area of Conservation in Northern Ireland (SAC), and a Special Protected Area (SPA). It is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemotskittiwakespuffins and razorbills – about thirty bird families in total. It is a popular place for birdwatchers, with a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve offering spectacular views of Rathlin’s bird colony. The RSPB has also successfully managed natural habitat to facilitate the return of the Red-billed Chough. Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of choughs can be seen during the summer months. It is also home to seals, golden hares, and other flora and fauna rarely seen on the mainland. There are numerous Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) on the Island – including the Coast, because of the importance to birds, and Kebble, which is also a Nature Reserve, because of the importance of its heathland.

The cliffs on this relatively bare island are impressive, standing 230 feet (70 m) tall. Bruce’s Cave is named after Robert the Bruce, also known as Robert I of Scotland: it was here that he was said to have seen the famous spider ‘try and try again’! The island is also the northernmost point of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Plans for the island

Rathlin Island is shaded green (Communication from Councillor Dónal Cunningham SDLP, Moyle District Council, 29th January 2013)

The Providence oil company has had a number of consultations with the Rathlin Island community.  Providence are entirely aware of the community’s opposition to:

– Fracking
– Any drilling operations on the island
– Any drilling operations in the protected marine conservation area
– The communities preference for the renewable tidal energy projects in the neighbouring Fair Head and Torr Head off shore sites

From the outset, Providence have insisted that their target is oil, and that they have no interest or track record in fracking or shale gas. The Rathlin community by and large accept this. The Providence proposal (which has not been released yet) seems likely to target an area in the Rathlin Sound which would be accessed from the onshore Ballycastle side with nothing visible above the sea surface. Exploratory drilling is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2014. Drilling from onshore gives the community a better chance to scrutinise their plans via DOE application (drill pad) as opposed to DECC for offshore. The Island community would prefer renewables to fossil fuels, but it is recognised that Westminster DECC  are likely to approve a mix of energy sources. Rathlin Island has fantastic natural tidal energy resources right on its doorstep with the potential to build a world class industry.

P.R. Singleton Ltd, the UK subsidiary of Providence Resources P.l.c. was awarded an onshore exploration licence PL5/10 by the Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) on February 22nd 2011.  The area licenced covers nearly 15 km2, and is essentially the area of Rathlin Island. The licence was awarded on the basis that PR Singleton carry out a DETINI approved work programme within a five year term.  The work programme consists predominately of desk studies which will assist PR Singleton in determining the hydrocarbon potential of the basin.

Licencing in Northern Ireland is structured such that there is a “break point” after Year 3.  The company can then decide whether to continue with the licence or relinquish the acreage.  If the company decides to progress the licence then a well is required to be drilled before Year 5. To date, just one deep hydrocarbon exploration well has been drilled (previously) in the basin, the onshore Ballinlea-1, which was drilled by Rathlin Energy Limited who reported that samples of good quality oil were brought to the surface for analysis.