DCSIMG

Potential financial bonanza or environmental threat?

AN oil exploration firm says there may be 530 million barrels of oil under Rathlin Sound but already in north Antrim differing views are emerging.

Some consider the potential developments as heralding a financial bonanza and jobs boost for the Ballycastle area and beyond but others fear the impact any developments would have on tourism and the environment along the world famous north coast.

Providence Resources, based in Dublin, has been exploring the potential of oil and gas around the coast of Ireland.

In a statement, the company said they would drill an exploration well next year to examine the Ballycastle site, called the Polaris Prospect.

Environmentalists have reacted angrily with the Friends of the Earth calling it a “retrograde step”.

Northern Ireland director James Orr said: “It is an area with some of the best tidal energy resources and some of the best wind energy resources, not just in Ireland but in Europe.

“We should be exploiting those for clean and green energy. The exploitation of the remaining oil and gas resources around Ireland is very counter-productive.”

In 2012, Providence carried out surveys over the area, which covers about 30 square kilometres, which it holds the licences to explore.

The company said there were five anomalies which were prospects for examination, with the Rathlin Sound location being the primary site.

Providence said this was “structurally on-trend” with an onshore well at Ballinlea near Ballycastle where oil was found.

The company’s technical director John O’Sullivan said their results had been encouraging and that it may be possible to drill from an onshore location.

“The Rathlin Basin has always been considered prospective due to the presence of a rich oil prone source rock, however poor seismic imaging has historically rendered it difficult to determine the basin’s true hydrocarbon entrapment potential,” he said.

“We believe that our application of new technologies such as Full Tensor Gradiometry should allow for a complete re-assessment of this frontier basin.

“We have now commenced planning for a future drilling programme in 2014, which includes necessary site investigations, local permitting requirements together with regulatory and local stakeholder liaison.”

Added Mr O’Sullivan: “We continue to be very encouraged by the results of the recent FTG programme, which has exceeded our pre-survey expectations. We believe that our application of new technologies such as Full Tensor Gradiometry should allow for a complete re-assessment of this frontier basin.

“We have now commenced planning for a future drilling programme in 2014, which includes necessary site investigations, local permitting requirements together with regulatory and local stakeholder liaison.”

Ballycastle SDLP councillor Dónal Cunningham has responded with a word of caution to the announcement by Providence.

Mr Cunningham said: “The statement issued by Providence Resources today announcing a future exploratory drilling programme in the offshore Rathlin Basin should be given proper consideration.

“Any proposal must undergo the rigours of a full environmental impact assessment which would examine any possible positive or negative impacts on the environment, consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects. Nothing must be done to disturb either the outstanding beauty or natural character of the area.

“While I welcome the confirmation that ‘shale gas’ is not the target and therefore hydraulic fracturing ‘fracking’ will not be the extraction technique, it is important to ensure that any development is in keeping with our environment. More research is required to ascertain the density of the off shore subsurface and its rock properties.

“It would appear most likely at this stage that an exploratory offshore target in the Rathlin Sound 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. Providence has engaged regularly with the Rathlin island community and I now expect this consultation to be extended to the Ballycastle side.

“I am keen supporter of the neighbouring tidal energy projects at Fair Head and Torr Head as a safe and environmentally friendly measure of providing energy.

“I look forward to Providence engaging in discussions with all relevant parties before embarking on any exploratory drilling programme,” said Cllr Cunningham.

Following the announcement that over half a billion barrels of oil could be retrieved from the Rathlin Basin, Independent councillor Padraig McShane suggested that if it was economically viable, little could be done to stop the resource being exploited.

He said: “Because of the vast profits associated with oil industries, companies seem to have an ability to ride through planning legislation and environment concerns seem to become a secondary consideration against the pursuit of multinational companies interests.

“That being said the industry does enjoy models of ‘best practice’ around the globe. Our primary concern must centre around the protection of the natural environment. Of secondary and equal importance is those who reside here. An industry on this scale will bring enormous changes to the area but has real potential to bring similar sized benefits.”

The Councillor stated that given the nature of the discovery hydraulic fracturing would not be used to extract the commodity.

“It is too early to ever consider the possibility that a single barrel of oil will ever be extracted in the area but the protection of the natural surroundings must begin now. To that end the Council have already begun to sound out methods of industry practice that ensures environmental protection going forward.”

Ballycastle Sinn Féin councillor Cara McShane also commented on the oil exploration.

“I think it’s fair to say that this announcement has been met with optimism mixed with caution,” Cllr McShane said.

She added that people see this as being potentially beneficial in terms of job creation in the area but also are wary of any risk this sort of development may pose to the environment.

She added: “Sinn Féin wants to ensure that any such development benefits the area economically and the most common-sense approach is to weigh up any concrete proposals in terms of economic input against solid environmental guarantees when they come forward.”

 
 
 

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