Lough Allen, Spencer Harbour.   Wikimedia cc (A. F. Borchert)

Options Licences have been granted to three oil/gas companies to study the potential for shale gas exploitation in the Northwest and Clare.  Now the Government is commissioning a report by the EPA on the safety of the technology of hydraulic fracturing, which will be completed in 2014.  Minister Rabbitte says that no hydraulic fracturing will be allowed until after this report is delivered and considered.

EXPLORATION LICENCES COULD STILL BE GRANTED.  In the North, four exploration licences have been granted already.  The only one that specifically allows fracking is the Tamboran licence.  The others do not allow fracking.  Similar exploration licences could be granted to the three exploration companies if they apply for licences by 28th February.  This matter is therefore URGENT.

A possible scenario is that such licences will be given, mining pads will be constructed and deep drilling will commence, possibly as early as next year. After the EPA report, applications could then be made for fracking. If this happens, there is little chance that fracking will be forbidden – the commercial viability of any well cannot be established without hydraulic fracturing. The granting of exploration licences is therefore in effect the granting of permission to frack.

There is a common perception that an exploration licence automatically follows the licencing options that have already been granted. This is not true! The licencing options given to Tamboran, LangCo and Enegi Oil include the following Condition:

If the Company applies, on or before the expiry date of this Licensing Option, to licence all or part of the area reserved by way of this Option, the Minister will be prepared to consider the granting of a follow-up authorisation (an Exploration Licence) to the Company covering an area to be agreed with the Minister having regard to the work programme proposed by the Company.’

The Minister is therefore under no obligation to grant exploration licences at any time. Neither is he liable for compensation claims. The decision to grant exploration licences is therefore a political decision, not a commercial or legal requirement.

So – why will the Minister not state that NO Exploration Licences will be issued before the new EPA report is completed and considered?

Has the deal been done already and is the EPA report just a whitewash?