I listened over to the Drumshanbo debate. I was present at the Love Leitrim debate and came away with a slightly different opinion, later corrected. However there was one element which struck me which I realise was probably said in the heat of argument but is very damaging to the campaign, and which Sinn Fein needs to be on track with.
On twitter and in the meeting Phil Flanagan has questioned Donal O Cofaigh running as a Fermanagh Against Fracking candidate in Enniskillen and seems to intimate Enniskillen won’t be affected, by saying Donal should have run in the Erne West ward. This serves Tamboran, DETI and DCENR purposes. We have worked too hard to avoid ‘fracking’ as being only something of concern for those in W Fermanagh or N Leitrim to deal with, to let the comment go by without some sort of repost.
Tamboran wanted larger areas both sides of the border
From the DETI briefing to ETI committee Tamboran requested an area in East Fermanagh to explore meaning effectively an area over half as big again in Fermanagh as they currently have. Similarly we know they applied for the same area as LANGCO in the Republic for their options licence. Recent FOIs show they’ve retained ALL their Options licensed area in their Exploration licence application. Sinn Fein have stated in emails that they will not oppose exploration which does not involve hydraulic fracturing, so effectively those areas are still at risk from exploration, and the target is quite clearly unconventional gas.
The Small Project is Tamboran/DETI/DCENR spin
A small initial project proposal is what was used in the Corrib and then using influence in surrounding areas through community projects effectively set neighbouring parish against neighbouring parish. There’s another use of the small project area initially approach, in that it can help Governments salami slice planning and negate need for an SEA at the outset. I’ve been party to emails from Government officials which seem to suggest just that approach being used. By the time an SEA is deemed to be needed, parts of the basin have already been declared prospective, so the whole focus of the SEA is changed. Remember too the economic argument in planning now carries significant weight.
No One knows the true Extent
Because no Strategic Environmental Assessment has been carried out we don’t know the extent of the Shale potential in either part of the Island. What is clear is that there is significant unconventional gas potential from coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas in many counties in Ireland. We want to see a ban on both the Exploration and the Extraction of onshore unconventional oil and gas. We need to also be very clear that our licensing regulations in both sides of the border grant access to ALL hydro carbons. Indeed from answers in public meetings with Rathlin, Rathlin have refused to rule out exploitation of unconventional oil and gas. Again I hark back to the point made about Sinn Fein (and indeed other parties) not being opposed to ‘non fracking’ exploration effectively sees a salami slicing of the planning system allowing pads and other infrastructure to be built thus allowing these companies influence on the ground and in communities. It allows them to build financial vehicles and to negotiate financial deals. It grants them certain rights which then would be liable to dispute possibly via investor state dispute mechanisms, totally outside of the court system.
The Borehole being planned by Tamboran is unique. It will prove prospectivity in two countries simultaneously. It also will prove prospectivity as far as DETI and DCENR are concerned for the whole basin. Once the borehole proves prospectivity, then mechanical properties can be tested through actual fracking. The first well pad to test the shales mechanical properties and any fracking mixes and any water recovery solutions will be tested in Tamboran’s initial area. After that however we will see further contiguous areas in the basin being snapped up as exploration projects.
Proving proof of concept
Tamboran don’t have to do a huge amount. This question in the Assembly shows that Tamboran do not have to drill a huge amount to do a proof of concept. I suspect that even this programme may be cut back, or at least Tamboran will be given extra time to try it given the current extension will creep into the time Tamboran will have left of their 5 year licence.
The Doughnutting effect.
Its clear that Enniskillen and indeed those residents of Fermanagh (and Antrim/Down and other parts where licences are potentially in effect) need to be aware that they are in the firing line. Its important that we engage. That silence on behalf of these communities now is not taken as acquiescence or support for fracking, and realisation that these communities will bear some of the brunt in the future, but will be used in the present, with gifts and bribes to buy silence or active participation in the project.
As for Sinn Fein’s comments, then I feel its a case of them attempting to say – trust us we’ll stop this. However events of the last few weeks have really torpedoed that trust, and some of the rash comments have undone some of the work we’ve being trying to achieve. While I can accept that there is a certain amount of politics due to the elections, it is still of paramount importance that those parties that say they oppose fracking do not give unrealistic accounts of the situation. Enniskillen is at risk as much as Belcoo, as is Antrim Clare and South Leitrim, and indeed in the battle for hearts and minds Enniskillen as county town is a key battle ground in order to stop this industry.