Campaigners lobbying to protect the North Coast from oil and gas extraction (especially fracking) held a public meeting in Portrush last Wednesday night.
Despite the stormy night people arrived to learn more and share their concerns.
Invited speaker, Gary McFarlane, Director, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Northern Ireland, emphasised the social and economic problems posed by pursuing the extraction of more fossil fuels – including shale gas, more so than the environmental problems.
While he acknowledged the environmental impacts, he said he was more concerned about what it meant for humans and for our society and economy.
Melanie Brown, a former policy adviser and researcher for the New Zealand government and resident of Ballycastle, presented a detailed analysis of the dangers of fracking on the North Coast. Melanie exploded many myths around fracking such as the economic benefits of jobs and cheaper energy.
Rathlin Energy – the petroleum licence-holder on the north coast – admitted in a meeting in Ballycastle in 2013 that their operations will bring very few local jobs to the area as most of the workers are specialist technicians brought in from around the world.
This is in stark contrast to 5000 direct jobs coming from Tourism across the Causeway Coast and Glens council areas that will be at risk should fracking proceed.
Farmers at the meeting expressed serious concerns and asked what is the Ulster Farmers Union doing to protect their livelihoods from the threats posed by the industry.
Resident Brian Connolly said: “As a Ballinlea resident, I am very concerned about Rathlin Energy’s Planning Application (E/2013/0093/F), for the proposed ‘Oil & Gas Exploration Well’ at the Ballinlea Drill Site 2, just south of Ballintoy in North Antrim.
“I and other local residents, have serious concerns about the potential health, environmental and economic impacts that this specific application presents. We are also very concerned about the longer term impacts and implications that this proposed industrial exploration will represent for the whole license area which stretches from Magilligan to Ballycastle and south to Garvagh.”
In the Planning Application Rathlin Energy are proposing to conduct a variety of tests, which include Hydraulic Fracturing, Mini Fall Off Tests, Acid Squeeze etc. They propose to drill into and test both the Sandstone Layer and the ‘unconventional’ Shale Layer.
“As there are no specific regulations in Northern Ireland for the exploration or extraction of unconventional oil & gas (e.g. shale gas), we local residents, and the broader community, are currently left at the company’s mercy. Should their current planning application be granted it would be largely left to the company to monitor and update the authorities on its activities. This is far from ideal and in no way can be seen as independent regulation nor an adequate level of oversight of their activities.
“Our, (the Ballinlea Concerned Residents), concerns about Rathlin Energy’s ability to monitor and regulate their proposed activities at the Ballinlea site are well-founded, as they have already been noted to have misled the local community about their intentions. Rathlin Energy stated at their public meetings in June 2013 and in their publicly available documents at that time, that this planning application, at the Ballinlea drill site 2, did not include hydraulic fracturing.
“Having been required to supply further information within this planning process, Rathlin Energy have now stated in their documentation, that, hydraulic fracturing does in fact form part of this immediate exploration process, along with processes in the unconventional shale reservoir, as a means of testing the supply and viability of any oil & gas found at the Ballinlea 2 drill site.
“This initial concealment of proposed exploration processes from the local community is both insulting and worrying. We are forced to ask can the company therefore be trusted in their assurances on the protection of public health and the environment? In the absence of specific regulations and independent monitoring for the exploration or extraction for unconventional oil and gas, we would be very foolish to allow any oil & gas exploration or extraction to occur within the unspoiled beauty of the North Coast or the whole of Northern Ireland.
“In brief, our main concerns about the planned oil & gas exploration at Ballinlea, (which should also be forwarded to the Strategic Planning Service/DOE) are: Public Health, Damage to Landscape and Local Environment and Damage to the Local Economy - Tourism and Agriculture.
“I am aware that there are no easy answers to the current bind that our power-hungry society and economies are faced with. I am aware that there are serious threats to our long-term energy needs. As a society we must wake up to the difficult choices in front our nose, as let’s face it, our current lifestyle is unsustainable. I therefore urge you to publicly reject the polluting and unsustainable Oil & Gas Industry before it starts in Northern Ireland.
“Our local representatives must be tasked to seriously consider the emerging alternative and sustainable sources of power and energy that our environment can and does provide, such as wave, wind, solar and tidal power. I urge our political representatives to take a positive stand on this matter and publicly reject the short-term, unsustainable and polluting Oil & Gas industries in favour of a more sustainable future for the sake of our children and the coming generations.”
A PONC Spokesperson stated: “In spite of the enormous concerns evident in the meeting and among the wider community, it was very disappointing to see that again no MLAs were in attendance from North Antrim, the area most affected.”