drilling rig
It is finally happening! 

Without a Strategic Impact Assessment (SEA) of the proposals for Fracking in Northern Ireland, without Planning Permission, without consultation with residents or, indeed, public representatives, Tamboran Resources are moving in machinary to the Acheson and Glover quarry in Belcoo, County Fermanagh in order to construct a drilling pad and operate a drilling rig as part of their proposal to develop shale gas in Ireland.

According to a letter put through doors in Belcoo by Tamboran Resources on 21st July:

  • The proposal is to drill an exploratory well, 15cm (6″) wide and 750 m (2,500 ft) deep.
  • They will get core samples throughout the length of the bore which they will study to find out the gas (methane) content and its suitability for extraction.
  • There will be NO FRACKING during this stage.

What does this mean – is it safe?  Are there no consequences for the residents or environment?  The following are the steps in this exploratory stage:

  • The operator arrives on site with his first 120 trucks, security people, fencing, razor wire, etc.
  • Builds a pad.
  • Brings on the rig, lighting, cement, portacabins, toilets, generators, compressors
  • Brings on the drilling mud.
  • Drills the well through aquifer.
  • Cements in conductor and then surface casing (you hope)
  • Drills down to 750 m or further
  • Drilling waste collected according to good practice (you hope)
  • Mud and drill waste transported by truck to local waste facility (dump). (This caused radioactive monitors to go off repeatedly in the states.)  Belcoo has high Radon incidence, indicating the presence of Radium or Uranium underground.  The drill waste will be more radioactive than surface soil.

Having said all that, we are not talking about a huge volume of waste.  The core volume would be around 15 cubic metres; drilling mud will add to that.  Total volume less than an average tanker (30 cubic metres).

Environmental issues (not definitive):
  • Composition of drilling mud – chemicals transported on public roads.
  • Protection of aquifer.
  • Safe collection of drilling waste.
  • Disposal of mud drill waste with high radioactivitycontent, heavy metals and possibly petroleum products.
  • Disturbance of community, stress.
Political Response

Statement from Environment Minister Mark H Durkan:

“Under planning rules, this type of exploratory drilling may fall under ‘permitted development’. However, before the company is given permission to proceed, a full “screening” process under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations will be required to ensure that there is no potential for significant environmental impact. I will ensure that this screening process is rigorous and definitive before permitted development rights are considered.”

  • Does this mean that Tamboran Resources cannot drill before they do an EIA?
  • What is the difference between “full screening process” and an EIA?
  • What regulations?  Who determines them?
  • What are “permitted development rights”?
Other factors:
  • If the results of this operation show that the area is suitable for shale gas extraction, Tamboran Resources most likely will apply for further exploratory licences in preparation for shale gas extraction.  Such exploration operations will include high volume hydraulic fracturing (FRACKING)
  • The Petroleum Affairs Divison in Dublin have confirmed that they will accept the results of the Belcoo drilling as fulfilling the requirement of work to be carried out in the context of the Licencing Options originally granted to Tamboran, which expired in February 2013.  This would open the door for further exploratory licences to be granted for drilling in Leitrim/Cavan.