Well Tamboran have said they’re ‘concerned’ about the Minister’s decision. Lets just take that with the large pinch of salt that’s needed. Let’s remind Tamboran why its come this way.
Tamboran were never supposed to drill just one borehole. In both their licences they had the opportunity to go around and test and sample the shale in many different areas around Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh. Shale is notoriously non-uniform so the reality is that was probably as good a work programme as the single borehole. The simple reason why they couldn’t or wouldn’t do this is because in the Republic of Ireland they didn’t have the correct authorisation to do so – a Petroleum Prospecting Licence, but moreover, they wouldn’t have got onto the land to do so once Coillte and the Forestry Service effectively closed lands to them. That lead them to have to go to the single borehole.
From August 2011 (mere months into the licence) Tamboran started looking at changing the work programme. They wanted to substitute the boreholes with ‘fracking mixes’ and ‘seismic’. In January 2012 the idea of this single borehole was ‘officially’ announced in their presentations, leading to May 2012 where DETI agreed to the work programme change. In October 2012, as their options licence in the Republic came to a close, they secured agreement that they could substitute the small boreholes for this deeper one near the centre of the basin.
So Tamboran have effectively been working on this at least since Jan 2012. Two years and six months later they move on site. Remember Tamboran had to get an extension to their work programme. Tamboran have said they have had lots of people offering them land, yet they chose the quarry site. Either this was the only site they could get, or there were other deals in the pipeline, one doesn’t know at this stage, but it seems odd that a quarry site, in full view of the Ulster Way, and also viewable from the road to the Marble Arch caves would be deemed a good choice. To my mind this was the only place available to them. Perhaps they thought it was a good spot. Perhaps they thought that a quarry would just get retrospective permissions as the DOE would look the other way.
This decision is based on the quarry permissions. Essentially the site is the scene of unlawful extraction – 1.8 hectares of it. That Tamboran effectively condone this by moving on site is significant too. The Minister’s decision is correct. There has been unlawful activity at this site, the hydrology and geology is complex, but more importantly may have been damaged already by the unlawful activity. The only sensible option then is to get an Environmental Statement which presents some baseline information and reviews both quarry complexes (they are linked hydrology wise) assess that information, and follow due planning process.
Sammy Wilson has been quick to state that the Minister’s action is to suggest Northern Ireland is closed for business. Sammy where was the DOE while it was under your watch (2008-2009) or your predecessor Arlene Foster (2007-2008) or even your successor Edwin Poots (2009-2011), and did the Department have knowledge of unlawful activity at this Acheson and Glover quarry during that time ? That it has come to this however is down to Tamboran’s inability to organise and get the drilling done. That’s what happens when you leave it to the last minute. Fail to prepare – prepare to fail.