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An oil and gas drilling firm has won planning permission to drill an exploratory well in Co Antrim which it says could hold around 450m barrels of oil.
Infrastrata said it expects to test drill the ‘Larne-Lough Neagh basin’, running from the tip of Lough Neagh to Larne, by November, subject to approval from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
The company will also need to complete an agreement for a lease over the land for the well site and secure funding for the well.
A licence to explore the area was awarded to the firm in March 2011 by Deti, covering 663 sq kms.
The planning permission allows a window for activities on site between September and March and Infrastrata said that plans are progressing well towards site construction, with a dataroom already opened.
The initial well will target an area estimated to hold around 40m barrels of oil.
Over 450m barrels of oil have been estimated to lie within the whole licence area and another area offshore of the Larne-Lough Neagh Basin could bear an estimated 150m barrels of oil.
A license on this new area is due to be awarded soon.
Initially a joint venture between InfraStrata and Nautical, the latter firm has now pulled out of the arrangement after it was acquired by Cairn Energy plc, and InfraStrata will acquire their 20% interest, subject to Deti approval.
Stewart Dalby, editor of Oilbarrel.com, an investor website for small cap oil gas companies and previously Ireland correspondent for the Financial Times, said that news of the exploration well is exciting, but that all estimates are speculative.
“Historically this basin has been underexplored with only one well by Shell drilled in the 1970s,” he said.
“Success elsewhere in Northern Ireland has led many to believe the province could be highly prospective for oil and gas.
“Even with the latest seismic testing the chance of success for most wells is only 33% at best,” he warned.
Infrastrata is not the only company looking for oil in Northern Ireland.
This time last year, Providence Resources said it believed that around 200m barrels of oil could be recovered close to Rathlin Island, producing around $20bn (£13bn) in revenue.
The area explored covers around 30 sq kms. The firm is leading a drilling programme on a number of exploration and development wells off the Irish shore. The $500m (£317m) investigation is taking place in six areas. As well as oil, other firms are seeking shale gas and even gold beneath our soil.
It’s called Fracking by Stealth – companies apply for permission to drill, not to frack. They take the position that drilling is harmless and the UK Government agrees with them – no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) needed for drilling. And even if eventually EIAs will be required, it will be for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) stage only.
Let’s look at what can now be done without EIA
• The operator arrives on site with his first 120 trucks.
• Builds a pad.
• Brings on the rig, lighting, cement, portocabins, accommodation block, toilets, generators, compressors
• Brings on the drilling mud with drilling chemicals.
• Drills the well through an aquifer.
• Cements in conductor and then surface casing (you hope) – nobody check in the UK – there are no regulations and no inspection.
• Drills through intermediate stage
• Cements in Intermediate casing (you hope) – nobody check in the UK – there are no regulations and no inspection.
• Maybe an Formation Integrity Test executed. (Tests quality of casing)
• Drills to final depth (a mile or more)
• Cements in production casing (this definitely happens as it is needed for operator)
• Mud drill waste all transported by truck to local waste facility (this caused radioactive monitors to go off repeatedly in the States).
• Brings on the kit needed for fracking, sand (silica), chemicals in their raw 100% form, water abstraction ready – if no local supply, compressors for getting to 6,000+ psi.
• Then he is ready to frack and applies for permission to do that.
Then – AND ONLY THEN – is an EIA required in the UK under the “old” EU regulations. And now, with the complete climb down by the Commission, even this is not necessary!
Fracking by Stealth will happen because it is a good way to divert attention away and means the planners have to pass the initial permission because they need proper reasons for rejecting and just drilling a hole in the ground is hard for them to reject and so they don’t.
B.Sc.(Hons.) C.Eng. MIET.