Tamboran cover letter for residents of Belcoo

When Tamboran Resources arrived in Belcoo in the early hours of the morning (5am), 21st July, residents were not only greeted with the sound of traffic, but also this cover letter through their letter box by 9am:

Tamboran Cover letter

The third paragraph from the bottom states:

“We know there has been a campaign against shale gas, and regret the amount of misinformation that this has generated.”

Thankfully, the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network double checks and references all our facts, such as the British Medical Journal, who have stated the following about unconventional shale gas extraction:

“To the extent that they are technically and economically feasible, risk reduction technologies that mitigate adverse health outcomes should be deployed. However reviewing the public health aspects of the development of the shale gas industry requires more than merely gesturing to technological improvements that lack empirical data on their effectiveness in the real world. The optimism that fail-safe engineering solutions can ensure safe shale gas development may result more from a triumph of marketing than a demonstration of experience.”

The Medical Journal of Australia who stated that:

Unconventional gas extraction is responsible for air pollution from diesel fumes from infrastructure development and stationary equipment, gas processing, venting and flaring. Fugitive methane emissions can catalyse development of ground level ozone and combine with PM to form smog, both of which contribute to respiratory disease, among other health effects, and damage to crops — gas- field haze is a well known effect in the US, with such pollution capable of travelling substantial distances. Shale gas extraction can also involve the flaring or venting of “associated” gases, which can become hazardous air pollutants.

And world renowned medical Journal, The Lancet who stated that despite scientific study of the health effects of fracking being in its infancy, “findings suggest that this form of extraction might increase health risks compared with conventional oil and gas extraction [due to] larger surface footprints of fracking sites; their close proximity to locations where people live, work and play; and the need to transport and store large volumes of materials.”

The Lancet went further to state that the, “risks of environmental contamination occur at all stages in the development of shale gas extraction.”

Whilst in fact the proposed exploratory borehole drill will not include any hydraulic fracturing, it is recognised as the first step towards the process of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction in County Fermanagh.

Acheson and glover comment on Tamboran drilling

The Impartial Reporter have released a statement given by Quarry site Acheson and Glover, the site within which it was announced today that Tamboran Resources are to begin their test drilling.

The Impartial Reporter states:

A spokesman from the company said: “We can confirm that Tamboran Resourses UK is using an existing Acheson and Glover commercial quarrying site to drill a scientific borehole for the Fermanagh Shale Gas Project.
“The site near Belcoo is enclosed and will have limited visual impact for the local area and its residents. The project will involve no fracking and will be for finding purposes only.
“Despite this announcement being made now, there is no drilling activity planned for a number of weeks. It is also important to point out that the only involvement we have with this project is that we own the land where the exploration site is situated.”
They said they would not be commenting further on the matter.

To read the article, click here.

Tamboran to drill belcoo site by late august

It has been reported by the Impartial Reporter that Tamboran Resources are to begin their borehole drill in late august, amidst the news that equipment had arrived in the early hours of this morning.

FFAN

The Impartial Reporter state:

The scientific borehole will be about 15cm (6 inches) across and around 750 metres deep and will be drilled in a Belcoo site owned by Acheson and Glover’s (but not in its main Belcoo plant). There will be no fracking ivolved
Tamboran officials are on the ground in Belcoo this morning speaking to locals about their plans for fracking. The company says that it will NOT frack the Acheson and Glover site in the future.
In a statement released this morning a Tamboran spokesman said:Tamboran has today informed the Department of Environment and the Department of Enterprise, TRADE and Investment of its detailed plans to carry out this work before 30th September 2014. If granted permission to proceed, the company hopes to be able to commence drilling operations in late August.
The proposed scientific borehole will be about 15cm (6 inches) across and around 750 metres deep. It will be drilled using standard techniques and materials. The drilling operation will be completed in approximately 30 days and rock samples will be examined on site and subsequently sent for laboratory analysis to better understand its content.
The rock samples will be analysed to help confirm the presence of a natural gas source in County Fermanagh. This will enable the company to determine if it will be possible to extract the gas at a much later date, subject to full planning approval.
Making the announcement, Dr Tony Bazley, Director of Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd said:
“Tamboran’s intention at this stage is only to verify that the elements necessary for natural gas and its recovery are contained within the shale in County Fermanagh. This is fact-finding, not fracking. If County Fermanagh is home to a significant natural gas resource that could provide Northern Ireland with decades of a local secure energy supply then we believe the people have a right to know.
“We believe that the presence of natural gas in Northern Ireland could bring considerable benefits to the local and regional economy with the potential for billions of pounds of investment; hundreds and potentially thousands of jobs created locally and importantly for Northern Ireland a secure supply of energy that could last for decades and potentially help reduce local energy costs. However, we first need to make sure enough gas is there to be commercially viable and that we will not know for certain until the end of the licence period. This is just the first stage in that process,” said Dr Bazley.
The spokesman added: “The site near Belcoo, County Fermanagh is in an enclosed commercial area already used for heavy industrial purposes that will have limited visual impact. It will be secured on a 24/7 basis and the company will be taking all appropriate precautions to ensure the site is safe for workers and crucially local people. The company can also confirm that it will not seek to ‘frack’ on this site at any time in the future.”
Dr Bazley continued: “If the indications are that there is not enough natural gas that can be released from the shale rock then we will know this quickly and almost certainly decide not to continue with our investment in Northern Ireland. If we find a significant gas resource is likely we will continue to the end of the licence term in 2016. Before the end of the licence term a single site would be tested for natural gas if given planning permission.”
“Any future application will be subject to the strictest environmental, health and safety standards and the public would have their opportunity to participate. This however, is still a long way off and ultimately any decision to use hydraulic fracturing will be made by the Government of Northern Ireland.
“We suggest that given the potential benefit this can bring to everyone in Northern Ireland that this deserves serious consideration and debate. We would ask that people approach with an open mind and willingness to listen to all the facts before making an informed decision. We believe the people and Government of Northern Ireland have a right to know if there is gas beneath our feet. People have a right to the facts and that is what we are seeking to establish.”

To vies the article, click here.

Gasbagging

There’s been quite a flurry in the local media this week over Tamboran’s much-trailed ‘announcement’. In fact the press release, written by the PR giants Weber Shandwick (specialisms include ‘baby-boomer marketing’ and product placement), contained a lot more fluff than substance and several of the industry’s hoarier old tricks.

State the obvious

“Energy company Tamboran Resources Pty Ltd (“Tamboran”) is pleased to announce that initial studies have confirmed that a substantial natural gas field is present in southwest County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.”

Even my dog knows this. The important question for Tamboran is ‘will they be able to extract and sell it at a rate which would make them enormous profits?’ The important question for the rest of us is ‘what effect would this industrial process have on our economy, environment and future?’

 

Think of a number …

“A gas exploration project for Northern Ireland could create 600 full time jobs, up to 2,400 indirect jobs”

No one knows where the 600 figure comes from; as the Green Party point out, Tamboran has previously estimated 800 for the whole of Ireland while according to TV3, the (same?) 600 jobs are going to be in Country Leitrim. Could it possibly be a figure plucked from the air, big enough to offer hope to the desperate while small enough to still sound plausible? 2,400 is another suspiciously exact number. Is there perhaps some list of economic pseudo-statistics that states that every direct job involves four indirect ones? (More or less, we discover later, from Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh’s analysis.) In any case, the magic words ‘could’ and ‘up to’ make the whole exercise pretty meaningless – ‘up to 2,400 jobs’ could mean three as easily as two thousand. Contrary to some of the excited headlines, there are no promises here.

What jobs there might be; and we realise that if the fracking goes ahead then someone will be paid for doing something, are equally vague. Full time is not, of course, the same thing as permanent, and we suspect that many of these will be contracts to dig a hole or drive a lorry. If you employ someone for a week three times a year over a ten year period is that one job or thirty? In neither case is it a lot of help. Meanwhile the few plum jobs; mining engineers and the like, will almost certainly go to people brought in from the gas industry in North America.

The numbers that of course aren’t mentioned are the jobs and small businesses that will be threatened by fracking. The twin poles of our county’s economy are farming, specifically food production, and tourism, particularly eco-tourism. Both of these depend absolutely upon the perception of Fermanagh as clean, safe and unspoiled. We can’t afford to gamble with that.

 

Compare like with unlike

“and deliver natural gas energy security for the next 50 years.”

This is later explained as the

“[p]otential for ultimate production of up to 2.2 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas. This equates to 50 years of the current daily consumption of gas in Northern Ireland;”

We don’t, of course, expect either Tamboran or Weber Shandwick to know it, but in Fermanagh, as in much of Northern Ireland, we don’t consume any mains gas at all. Fifty times hardly anything is, er, not very much. It’s a bit like asking an old lady how much lager she drinks, multiplying it by fifty and presenting her with a six-pack, saying that should deliver her liquid requirements for the next 50 years.

 

Think of a bigger number

“The company, which proposes to invest £6 billion in Northern Ireland, was commenting following completion of the first part of its analysis to determine the feasibility of shale gas exploration in Northern Ireland. Tamboran’s technical team of over 20 professionals have been involved in substantial natural projects worldwide and have very high confidence that they can commercially develop this project in Northern Ireland. The full analysis will be published by the end of this year.”

£6 billion may well be an amount of money Tamboran are hoping to obtain for this project from shareholders and banks following their planned flotation on the Australian stock market this year. That’s not quite the same thing as investing in Northern Ireland in the sense that most of us would understand.

 

Repeat it

“Tamboran, who last year was granted an Exploration Licence by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, is focusing its Northern Ireland operations in the southwest area of County Fermanagh. The Company has been granted a Licensing Option in an adjacent area in the Republic of Ireland where it is focusing in north County Leitrim.

The north-west region of Ireland is the only part of the island which is not currently connected to the gas network.

Outlining its initial analysis, which was based on its own and other recent studies, Tamboran identified a range of economic and energy benefits for Northern Ireland from the project, including:

§ Potential for ultimate production of up to 2.2 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas. This equates to 50 years of the current daily consumption of gas in Northern Ireland;

§ Full natural gas security of supply in Northern Ireland for at least 20 years and a substantial reduction in imports for over 30 years leading to removal of Northern Ireland’s 100% dependency on imported gas;

§ Excess gas supply at peak production, enabling Northern Ireland to become a significant net exporter of natural gas;

§ The creation of 600 direct jobs and an estimated 2,400 indirect jobs in County Fermanagh;

§ Tax revenues of up to £6.9 billion (including royalties, corporation tax, Vat, employment taxes and exploration tax); and”

Yes, that £6 billion had a nice ring about it, didn’t it? Well worth using again, of course with the safety precaution of ‘up to’. There’s no mention of what period this is supposed to cover – if it’s over the fifty plus years they’ve referred to in other contexts then it doesn’t sound quite so exciting. What is certain is that for any of this money to come to the UK government (and it would not of course, be earmarked for Northern Ireland) Tamboran would have to be making pretty substantial profits out of a resource which is supposed to belong to the people of this country.

And somehow, quite legally of course, companies that make enormous profits don’t always end up paying quite as much tax as the initial figures would suggest. Barclays Bank, for example, made profits in 2009 of £11.6 billion. Incredibly, their tax bill, which at a rate of 22% would have been over £2.5bn, came out as a mere £113m – around 1 per cent. It would, we think, be very unwise for any country or region to depend on getting tax revenue from a foreign-owned company, especially when that company’s activities threaten the balance sheets of local businesses.

 

try a sweetener

“§ A community investment fund directed entirely within County Fermanagh, estimated to lead to additional local benefits in excess of £2 million per year once the project reaches expected commerciality in 2015.”

Out of those hoped-for profits, £2 million would of course be peanuts. But then, peanuts are a useful thing to fling around when you want to distract the monkeys from what you’re doing to their tree. Again, nothing is promised, but we can expect to see some small boys in glossy Tamboran football shirts for a great photo-opportunity.

 

quote yourself as an authority

“Describing the project as ‘an energy and economic game changer for Northern Ireland’, Richard Moorman, Chief Executive of Tamboran said:

‘Our initial analysis suggests very substantial shale gas reserves in the southwest Fermanagh area. Allowing for even modest rates of recovery, the energy and economic benefits would be tremendous.’

‘Security of energy supply is a primary concern for all governments. Our analysis indicates that the island of Ireland is in the fortunate position to have substantial gas reserves under its feet. In southwest Fermanagh alone, we believe that there is up to 50 years of the present daily gas consumption of Northern Ireland. Realising these reserves would secure gas supply for decades, protect consumers and businesses from market uncertainty and negate the risks associated with being over dependent on unpredictable external supplies. County Fermanagh would be able to attract additional businesses that would benefit directly from a secure local natural gas supply.'”

As we’ve pointed out, we have no gas infrastructure here, and there is no reason to think that this gas would be used within Northern Ireland or indeed the Republic, rather than being exported. ‘Market uncertainty’ is about price rather than supply, and Tamboran’s profits will depend upon the price being as high as possible.

The real problem with fossil fuels, as every primary schoolchild, though oddly not Richard Moorman, realises, is that they are creating devastating levels of climate change which will alter all of our lives for the worse within just a few short years. Shale gas, because of the crude nature of the extraction process and the amount of gas which is consequently wasted, is at least as bad if not worse than coal in this respect. If we really care about our children’s future we will take steps to switch to the renewable energies in which Northern Ireland is naturally and richly endowed, rather than wasting time and worse on unecessary hydraulic fracturing.

 

quote a celebrity – or even better, two

“Natural gas from shale has made a substantial positive impact in North America already. In his State of the Union address on the 25th of January, US President Barack Obama stated: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

President Obama’s comments are similar to statements by former US President Bill Clinton in his recently published book “Back to Work: Why we need smart government for a strong economy”, in which he wrote: “With proper care, I think we can extract the gas. We need it, and it can make us both more energy independent and contribute to job creation and growth.”

Somehow other parts of President Obama’s address, the bits about renewable energy, wind turbines, and energy efficiency, didn’t get quoted, along with the bits condemning lax regulation, overpaid executives and gambles that lead to people losing their jobs. But we know all about the problems that the fracking industry has created in America and how impossible it has been for those charged with protecting health and the environment to do anything about it. Richard Moorman has told us many times that the American experience has nothing to do with the situation in Ireland, which makes it rather odd that his PR people are now wheeling out not one but two US presidents. Did they try, and fail, to find a respected Irish or European politician who would support their case?

 

repeat yourself

“Mr Moorman further stated ‘Our projections of the economic gains for Northern Ireland from this proposed £6 billion investment includes up to £6.9 billion in tax revenues over the lifetime of the project, 600 full-time, long-term direct jobs by 2025 (with up to 2,400 indirect jobs), for a total of about 14,000 direct person-years of employment through to the year 2050. Tamboran expects to provide comprehensive and continuous training to all of its local employees to ensure they can commercially succeed within Tamboran.'”

We get some more figures here, along with the headline ones, but they don’t quite seem to add up. Between now and 2050 is 38 years and 14,000 ‘person-years of employment’ divided by 38 gives 368, not 600. As for ‘comprehensive and continuous training’, isn’t that what burger-flippers get at McDonald’s?

As Tamboran know, the prospect of jobs is the only real aspect of their plans which is likely to appeal to local people. It’s therefore in their interests to play it up as much as possible. Equally, if we care about the future of our young people, and hope that they will be able to stay in Fermanagh and raise their own families here, we need to look carefully at what is, and what isn’t likely to happen. Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh has done just this on his excellent blog at http://networkedblogs.com/tvnua which gives a full analysis of the figures used by Tamboran in this statement. On the question of jobs, he says;

“Tamboran say that 600 full-time and long-term jobs will be created if this proceeds. I fail to see how that could be true.

Most jobs created in this industry are associated with building the pads and then with the actual fracking process itself. Once a well is fracked it continues to release methane over many months until it has to be refracked.

Once a well has been fracked the only thing that requires employment is watching that the flow continues from all the wells in the field (one person could almost do this with the appropriate equipment) and with security. 600 full time jobs? It doesn’t sound realistic.

So the direct jobs created sounds like a massive over-estimate. But there’s even worse. The construction phase and development of 150 4-acre pads in this region will destroy the local tourism industry. The threat of benzene-infused waste water escaping into the local water courses will probably kill off any growth in agriculture and organic food and drink production in this area will just disappear as a result. Who wants to drink beer brewed in a place where the water is potentially contaminated by fracking waste-water? Fishing in Lough Melvin and Lough MacNean are potentially finished not to mention the impact of the water demand associated with each of these wells (6 to 8 million gallons of water per well and there could be up to 16 each pad). The environmental impact on agriculture and tourism will be devastating.

These happen to be the only industries in West Fermanagh and North Leitrim so even if Tamboran does create 600 full-time jobs for 25 years it will be at the cost of hundreds of jobs lost in tourism and in agriculture.”

 

 

make a virtue out of necessity

“Tamboran is proceeding with its agreed work programme of analysis, required under its existing licences, and will publish an update later this year. Additionally, the company will undertake a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment which will include a 12 month baseline study of all aspects of the environment, including soil, groundwater, air quality, noise levels, and seismic activity. The company will publish these findings upon completion in early 2013 and will then outline its intentions as to how it will request permission to proceed to the next stage of the licensing and planning processes.

Concluding, Mr Moorman said ‘In recent months we have met with and listened to a wide range of stakeholders at community, business, regulatory and political levels. We will continue with this approach, outlining the reality of our proposal while acknowledging that a project of this scale will attract requests for clarity and support.’

‘Tamboran will not utilise any chemicals in its hydraulic fracturing process in Northern Ireland, and we will be bringing together the best technologies developed worldwide into this one project to ensure the safe and responsible development of a tremendous resource for Northern Ireland.’

‘We are undertaking a full Environmental Impact Assessment, which will set out the specific criteria under which the company must safely and responsibly conduct its operations to the very highest standards.’

‘Additionally, we will establish a substantial community investment fund to ensure all benefits are shared at local as well as national levels. We consider it essential to deliver a direct benefit for local residents. Tamboran undertakes to operate safely and our commitment to openness and transparency will remain every step of the way.’

International studies worldwide have shown that natural gas has low carbon content relative to other fossil fuels, which would also allow it to play a significant role in reducing CO2 emissions, acting as a bridge to a low-carbon future (see editors’ notes).

Tamboran invites all stakeholders, especially local residents, to engage with the company and work closely with us to ensure that the project is conducted responsibly to meet the essential economic needs of the community and Northern Ireland.”

The company is legally obliged to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment: what is significant is not that it will do it, but how independent, complete and reliable it will be. Past experience sadly doesn’t promise much, but we can hope.

The point about chemicals continues to be unclear. It has been pointed out by experts that no hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction has been carried out worldwide without using chemicals in the fracking fluid – without them the sand would not remain suspended in the liquid and the equipment would rapidly deteriorate. Tamboran has not explained how it proposes to overcome these basic obstacles. It is also the case that not all the toxic chemicals are strictly within the ‘hydraulic fracturing process’ – many are contained within drilling muds, engine exhausts etc or are brought up from deep underground with the flowback waste. Finally, there is no extension of this pledge (itself not of course legally binding) to the activities of any subcontractor or subsequent purchaser of the licence.

Sadly, there is no evidence that Tamboran has listened to the concerns of local people or done anything tangible to address the issues which they raise. Indeed, on TV3 this week, the company’s Tony Bazley accused people like us who ask questions about their plans of trying to ‘intimidate the local communities’. It is difficult to see how, given such an attitude, local residents are able to engage with the company in any other way than mindlessly agreeing with everything it says. However, we will continue, in our quiet way, to ask the difficult questions, share the information which we have and speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable in our environment and society.

 

p.s. The ‘editor’s notes’ re gas and climate change refer to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology which receives significant donations from the gas industry. Their studies on this issue are partially funded by the American Clean Skies Foundation, formed by the billionaire CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the US. Other academic reports have come to different conclusions.

 

 

 

Update – where are we now?

Over the past few months a lot has happened, so here’s a quick summary of what has been going on.

April 1st 2011
DETI (the Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) granted a licence to Tamboran Resources to ‘search and bore for and get petroleum’ [the term includes gas] in a large area of County Fermanagh. The licence included a Work Programme divided into two parts. Part 1 was to cover years 1-3 (i.e. 2011 – 2014) and to include studies, assessments, sampling and reviews. Part 2 was to cover years 4-5 (i.e. 2014 – 2016) and to include finalising drilling locations, applying for permissions and drilling two wells in which hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) would take place.

December 6th 2011
The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont debated the issue of hydraulic fracturing and passed a cross-party motion calling for a moratorium on the technique. Following the vote, the Enterprise Minister stated that ‘no hydraulic fracking licence has been issued’, apparently unaware of the terms of her department’s April 1st licence.

January 9th 2012
Fermanagh District Council passed a motion ‘that this council opposes the use of hydraulic fracturing for gas exploration in the Lough Allen Basin and that in the light of the backing by the Northern Ireland Assembly for the motion put forward by Steven Agnew MLA on hydraulic fracturing, we call for the Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster to place a moratorium on the licence granted to Tamboran Resources.”

 

Richard Moorman, Tamboran CEO

January 2012
It is understood that Tamboran Resources has advised Fermanagh District Council that it has completed its initial studies etc and that it will soon be seeking permissions to proceed to the drilling and hydraulic fracturing stages of the Work Programme. A statement to this effect from Tamboran is anticipated in the next few days.

 

These events raise several serious questions. These questions are likely to be asked not only by those opposed to hydraulic fracturing but also by those who are as yet undecided and those who are broadly in favour of the use of the technique.

1. How detailed and careful can the initial studies and assessments have been, if they have been completed in less than nine months? The industrial process of shale gas extraction has implications for geological formations (including the Marble Arch Caves), the local water system, including loughs, the water table, rivers and streams, public health including the necessity for clean air and drinking water, transport and congestion on small rural roads, agriculture, tourism, fishing and flora and fauna, including many rare and endangered species. Each of these areas needs to be looked at in great detail, over at least an annual cycle, in order to have any hope of protecting our community and environment from damage.

2. No public consultation was carried out by DETI before awarding the licence to Tamboran and no prior notice was given to the Northern Ireland Assembly or Fermanagh District Council. Now both the Assembly and the Council have had the opportunity to debate the issue, and both have raised serious concerns, so serious that they have called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. In view of this clear line taken by our elected representatives, and the widespread public concern which it reflects, is it really in the interests of democracy for DETI to carry on regardless?

3. Although it suits the gas industry to claim that it is highly regulated here, the truth is that neither Northern Ireland nor the UK as a whole have any laws or regulations specifically about hydraulic fracturing. It is very unclear whose responsibility it is to ensure the safety of workers, local people and the natural environment. The granting of licences is made under a law dating from 1964 and takes little or no account of nearly half a century of scientific, technological and environmental change. Here in Northern Ireland the situation is especially serious as we, unlike almost all other developed countries and regions, have no independent Environmental Protection Agency, and the nature of our ministerial system makes it very difficult for departments to work together. The whole process is far from straightforward, leaving local people with an unsettling question – Who is watching the gasmen?

John Cole, The Times-Tribune , Pennyslvania

The story so far

Once upon a time, something over a hundred million years ago, an awful lot of plankton lived and died and ended up on the muddy bottom of  sea and lake beds mixed up with bits and pieces of vegetation. Sediment gradually built up over the plankton layer, heating it up and exerting such huge pressures that it eventually formed oil and natural gas.  The gas migrated upwards until it reached a layer of non-porous rock such as certain types of shale formation.  (Shale is a mixture of clay and tiny fragments of other minerals). The gas couldn’t get any further and stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

 Even when the world had discovered the wonder of fossil fuels, and was burning them as though there were no tomorrow (which, for millions of species, turned out to be pretty much the case) the shale gas was still left alone because it looked so darn impossible to get out.

Meanwhile, the 1964 Petroleum Act declared that all the oil and gas (yes, technically gas is a type of petroleum) under the ground in Northern Ireland belonged to the Ministry of Commerce (now the DETI), and regulations were drawn up so that they could license private companies to extract it.  They didn’t, of course, envisage drilling for shale gas, but the legislation was broad enough to come in very handy much later.

Over the next couple of decades, oil and gas companies in the United States spent a lot of time and money working on a process called hydraulic fracturing.  The technique, basically blasting a mixture of sand and water underground, had been used for some time to force awkward bits of oil and gas out of conventional wells.  But now, by using much more liquid, far higher pressures and a lot more chemical additives, they could use it to break open shale layers and get their hands on the natural gas inside.

It was, and still is, a pretty crude and unsubtle business, involving drilling down a kilometre or two, then horizontally a few more km, setting off explosives to start the destruction, then shattering the rocks with water at pressures of up to 15,000 psi (pounds per square inch) and holding the cracks open with ‘proppants’, tiny particles of sand or synthetic materials.  There’s no way of controlling how the rocks fracture and consequently where the gas goes, the process uses some very nasty, toxic and carcinogenic substances, brings up more (heavy metals, radioactive materials etc.) from the depths and creates pollution of every kind – air, water, visual, noise and greenhouse gas emissions.  But cheap, fossil fuel energy is the lifeblood of big, big business, and with conventional supplies drying up and oil-producing countries not always doing as they’re told, the idea of being able to get hold of burnable stuff under good American soil was just too tempting.  And, if your citizens aren’t quite sure, you can always introduce a jolly and reassuring cartoon character…

So, the friendly fracosauri went ahead and drilled over 35,000 shale oil wells in the United States alone, plus more in Canada.  Along with other ‘unconventional energy investors’ (sounds, cool, doesn’t it, like a banker who’s thrown away his tie and just, like, shimmied on down to pick up his bonus in a T-shirt?) such as those nice guys ripping up the Alberta tar sands, they made a great deal of money, assisted by their top government connections and exemption from most health, safety and environmental laws.  But, oddly enough, people started to complain.  It seems that the patriotic thrill of having an indigenous gas source wasn’t quite enough to make up for having drinking water contaminated with methane, radium and benzene, poisoned creeks and rivers, explosions and fires, depleted water supplies, subsidence, earthquakes, polluted air, clouds of silica particles, noise and light pollution, massive HGV traffic and serious health problems for animals, birds, fish and people.  By the time Josh Fox’s award-winning documentary Gasland came out in 2010, the trickle of unease had become a steady stream of opposition. As the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said in September 2011,

“These nuts make up about 90% of our population, so we can’t really call them nuts any more.  They’re the mainstream.”

Fortunately for the industry, North America isn’t the only part of the world where shale layers lie deep beneath the ground, holding the possibility of lucrative gas.  As the United States and Canada grow a little heated for comfort, gas companies are busy staking out their claims elsewhere: in China, India, Australia, New Zealand, and, yes, the United Kingdom and Ireland. They’re banking, literally, on the assumptions that people don’t take much notice of what happens in other countries, don’t communicate, don’t learn from one another and from history.  They think, like colonists dangling shiny strings of beads, that the suggestion, not even a promise, of a few jobs and a little state revenue will be enough to overcome enquiry, caution and common sense.

In some places they’ve been surprised.  In the Karoo region of South Africa, a country that needs economic good news more than most, a level-headed and hard-working campaign has kept their unique landscape safe so far.  Across the world more and more people are waking up to the realities of hydraulic fracturing and what it could mean for their environment, their lives and those of their children.  We have yet to see whether or not the ‘nuts’ become the ‘mainstream’ in time to make a difference.

Finally, back to Northern Ireland.  On April 1st 2011 (but probably not as an April Fool’s prank) the DETI granted four licences in relation to oil and gas exploitation in different parts of the region, including Rathlin Island and West Fermanagh.  Links to the licences and a map of the licensed area (which includes the Marble Arch Caves Geopark) are on our Documents page.  The Fermanagh licence has been granted to an Australian company called Tamboran Resources who have also been granted a similar licence by the Irish government in relation to the parts of the Lough Allen basin which are within the Republic.  Tamboran is at present a small company founded by a former investment banker but it is expected that, with these licences and land purchased in Botswana and elsewhere, it will be floated on the Australian stock market next year for over a hundred million dollars.

The licence is for an initial period of five years, during which various types of exploration and test drilling can be carried out.  After this, if the company (or their successors) wish it, and have complied with various requirements, the licence can continue for a further twenty-five years or more.  During this period a thousand individual wells could be drilled in the area on around a hundred sites linked by access roads and including buildings, heavy machinery and vehicles, and 50 x 50 metre water storage ‘ponds’. According to the company’s own website, each site, called a ‘wellpad’, “could be required for the full 65 years“.

As soon as the grant of the licences became known, people on both sides of the Irish border began asking questions.  It was clear, from the experiences of many communities in the United States and Canada, that hydraulic fracturing was not the clean and simple process promised by Terry the Fracosaurus and that our landscape, economy and daily lives would be entirely altered if the proposed operations were to go ahead.  Tamboran held several ‘Information Evenings’ at which some of these concerns – about the effect upon tourism, risk to agricultural production, depletion of water supplies, potential effects upon health, levels of HGV traffic, risk of water and air contamination etc were raised.  It is fair to say that, in the clear view of a large majority of the audiences, the representatives from Tamboran, including the CEO, did not provide satisfactory responses to these questions.

Since then, public meetings have been held in several towns and villages (and more are planned) to explore these issues more fully.  Details of these meetings and other news are available on this website.  The Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network exists to provide information about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing in our area, to help coordinate local groups within the county and to work closely with similar groups in the Irish Republic and elsewhere.  Please feel free to contact us  if you have any questions, or would like to help in any way.

 

p.s.  Tamboran’s website is obviously a work in progress and many of its pages are as yet blank.  We don’t know, therefore, where its name originates from.  However, the only other major references to ‘Tamboran’ on Google are to Mount Tambora in Indonesia. 

Mount Tambora is an active stratovolcano on the island of Sumbawa.  In April 1815 it exploded in the largest and most deadly volcanic eruption in recorded history.  The explosion could be heard two thousand miles away in Sumatra.  Around twelve thousand people were killed directly by the eruption and another sixty thousand from the consequent starvation and disease.  The explosion caused widespread tsumamis across the region and abrupt changes in the world’s climate including the ‘volcanic winter’ of 1815/6. On the island of Sumbawa itself, all vegetation was destroyed and flames and aftershocks were still being observed four years later.  As a direct result of Tambora’s eruption,  1816 was known across the northern hemisphere as the ‘year without a summer’, with frosts and snow in temperate areas as late as June.  Crops failed and livestock died in Europe, North America and other regions, resulting in the worst famine of the nineteenth century.

But it wasn’t bad news for quite everyone.  As Ballard C. Campbell explains in his book Disasters, Accidents and Crises in American History,

“Speculators hoarded and sold farm goods to Canada, and parts of Europe also suffering crop shortages, further driving up the prices of necessary commodities in local markets.”

Closer to home, Dr. Antony Ingraffea, one of the pioneers of hydraulic fracturing has said, referring to Tamboran Resources’ proposals for the Lough Allen basin,

“The trade off here is between wealth and health, there will be a few people who will derive very high wealth from this and everyone else bears the risk of human health concerns.”

Perhaps we can learn from history, after all.

How many roads …

… will be recognisable in West Fermanagh, if hydraulic fracturing gets underway?

The fracking would take place through wells drilled on ‘wellpads’, industrial sites constructed throughout what are now rural woods and fields. Let’s look at a single wellpad, the smallest type which could be used,  containing just eight wells. (The licensee, Tamboran Resources, say that they anticipate using a design which could accommodate sixteen or more.) We are assuming a twenty ton lorry as this is about the biggest that will fit on our rural Fermanagh roads.

1. Construction of pad base.
According to Tamboran (see above) an eight well pad occupies approximately six acres = 0.024 square kilometres. This will require a base of aggregate and concrete.
Using a half metre depth of aggregate: 20000 msq x .5 = 10,000 cubic metres of aggregate will be required.
A ton of dry gravel is approx 0.6 cubic metres so each pad base would require 16600 tons or 830 one-way lorry journeys.
Using a 15cm (6 inch) depth of concrete: 0.02 square km x .15m = 3000 cubic metres of concrete will be required.
One cubic metre of concrete weighs around 2.3 tons so each pad base would require 6900 tons or 345 one-way lorry journeys.

2. Sand (used for hydraulic fracturing)
Each well will require around 2500 tons of sand so eight wells will need 20,000 tons or 1000 one-way lorry journeys.

3. Water (used for hydraulic fracturing)
Tamboran say the large 50 x 50 metre water pond on the wellpad will provide eighty percent of the water needed for one well frack*. They anticipate that the pond will be 6metres deep, but kept at around five metres full to avoid any overflow.
This accounts for 50x50x5m = 12500 cubic metres of water.
If this is 80% of the amount required to frack a single well then the total needed must be around 15625 cubic metres or 4.13 million US gallons .
So 8(wells) x 4.13(million gallons/well) x.2 (20 percent not obtained from pond) = 6.6 million gallons of water which will have to be brought to the wellpad.
A tanker lorry weighing 20 tons holds 4800 US gallons.
6.6million gallons divided by 4800(each tanker’s load) = 1376 one-way lorry trips of water (and considerably more, if less water is available via the pond).

*The idea that so much water can practically or safely be diverted from the natural water cycle into these ponds is widely disputed.

4. Waste water (brought back up from the well, contaminated with salt and other substances)
Let’s use 25% as the amount that is likely to flow back to the surface  (this is a conservative estimate). This waste has to be transported somewhere. Given the shallowness of the shale, it is unlikely to be injected back underground, and to treat it on site would be extremely difficult (and require the use of considerable quantities of chemicals).
8 wells x 4.13million(gallons of water per well) x25% = 8.25million US gallons of waste water per pad.
Divided by 4800 (capacity of tanker) this gives 1718 one-way lorry loads of waste water.

5. Other.
Ancillary construction traffic (e.g. to make roads, move equipment etc.) will require at least 100 lorry journeys (and more if, as seems likely, forestry land will be used, so needing tree clearance and excavation / flattening of site). There will also be other smaller vehicular traffic.

Summary
Aggregate : 830
Concrete : 345
Sand : 1000
Water : 1376
Waste : 1718
Ancillary: 100

Total : 5339 x 20 ton one-way lorry journeys per pad.

Tamboran state that “as many as 10 wellpads could be being constructed each year about seven years from now” (on website, as above).
That means 5339 x 10 = 53,390 one-way journeys per year, or well over a thousand every week. Of course, these are one-way journeys and the lorries will have to go back again, so the number can probably be doubled.

Two thousand twenty-ton lorries driving along our narrow rural roads and through our villages and townlands every week. Just take a moment to imagine that.

According to Tamboran’s website, they hope to build around a hundred wellpads, and to add eight or sixteen more wells to each. That means at least this level of heavy goods traffic, and very likely much more, for many, many years. And each wellpad, Tamboran proudly say, “could be required for the full 65 years”.

If you’re old enough, or uncool enough, you probably remember John Denver’s Country Roads:

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowin’ like a breeze.

They’ve had fracking in West Virginia for a while now, recently implicated in the major East coast earthquake and a toxic algae bloom that wiped out thousands of fish along 35 miles of the Dunkard creek.

And one thing is certain, the roads aren’t much like heaven any more.

(Thanks to Tom White for all statistics and calculations)