FEARS are mounting that the controversial industrial process known as ‘fracking’ may take place locally. This comes as government documents showing a firm’s intentions to discover ‘coalbed methane’ and ‘shale gas’ are brought to light in today’s Sentinel.
BY NIALL DEENEY
The Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland has also expressed ‘deep concern’ after the Sentinel highlighted the documents, which he said “clearly show” the long-term intentions of a company known as Rathlin Energy to extract coalbed methane and shale gas.
Fracking, sometimes known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’, is a relatively new, highly controversial and potentially harmful industrial process for the extraction of natural gas which may lie buried beneath the ground in ‘gas-bearing’ sands or shale rock formations.
Last year, the Sentinel revealed that a firm known as Rathlin Energy were surveying a substantial tract of land, stretching from Limavady to Ballycastle and taking in much of the Roe Valley, for energy resources.
The company has now acknowledged that they are indeed exploring the area specifically for “gas-bearing sands” in addition to oil. This came after the Sentinel pointed to government licences granted to a predecessor of Rathlin Energy’s parent firm which stated explicitly, unlike Rathlin Energy’s current licence, that ‘coalbed methane’ and ‘gas shale’ were the targets.
The firm has consistently refused to rule out the possibility of fracking to extract any gas it might find in the area, but insist that they are focussed primarily on ‘conventional’ methods.
Rathlin Energy hold an exploration licence, granted by the Department of Enterprise, to “search for and get petroleum” in an area known as the Rathlin Basin. This licence area takes in nearby locations around Benevenagh, Myroe and Aghanloo and includes at least one Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as locations important for nature conservation and natural sciences.
Rathlin Energy are a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian firm Connaught Oil and Gas. Connaught Oil and Gas were formed after their predecessor, Connaught Energy, was bought over by Legacy Oil and Gas in 2009. A new firm was incorporated on October 15, 2009 as part of the corporate transaction.
The Sentinel can reveal that Connaught Energy previously held an exploration licence for the Rathlin Basin, but one which stated explicitly that they were looking for ‘shale gas’ and ‘coalbed methane’– prompting fears that fracking may take place if these materials are discovered.
Environmental Campaign group ‘No To Fracking’, based in County Londonderry and County Antrim, posted the licensing information to their website, adding: “They can only extract this gas, for commercial production, by fracking.”
A licence to search the Rathlin Basin was granted to Connaught Energy by the Department of Enterprise in February 2005 and transferred to Rathlin Energy in 2007. It allows for an exploration programme, the core elements of which include an evaluation of “coalbed methane and shale gas potential”.
The Sentinel, in a series of questions put to Rathlin Energy, pointed to this information and asked whether they were still hoping to find shale gas and coalbed methane in the Rathlin Basin and if it was likely fracking might be used to extract any that was found.
A company spokesperson said: “Rathlin Energy Ltd’s targets are conventional oil and gas-bearing sand. It is too early for us or anyone to speculate with any authority on the possible outcomes of the exploration program at this stage.”
However, the Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew MLA, said: “The Green Party in Northern Ireland is deeply concerned to learn that since 2004/5 Rathlin Energy has had intentions to extract shale gas and coal-bed methane on the North Coast which has not been clearly communicated to the public.”