The company behind plans for a controversial exploratory well at Woodburn Forest is to host a number of public consultation events this autumn.
Petroleum exploration and gas storage firm InfraStrata outlined proposals last year to drill a borehole at the rural site two miles north west of Carrickfergus.
The company was awarded a petroleum exploration licence by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in March 2011.
The licence area covers the Larne–Lough Neagh region of County Antrim, which according to the company has remained under‐explored for petroleum.
The plans have been met with concern by local environmental groups with over 60 people from across the community turning out for a ‘Lock the Gate against Gas’ launch outside Carrick Castle earlier this month.
A further public meeting, organised by the newly-formed Protect our Coast and Glens group, took place in The Windrose on Monday evening.
Among the concerns highlighted by the group is the extraction method which will be used if a viable source of fuel is found at Woodburn.
However, InfraStrata has repeatedly stated its plans do not involve hydraulic fracturing, also known as ‘fracking’.
Speaking about the latest developments, Dr Andrew Hindle, CEO of InfraStrata said: “We are very pleased to be progressing the drilling of the Woodburn Forest exploration well in Northern Ireland with Larne Oil and Gas as a joint venture partner. InfraStrata will continue to manage the joint venture as operator but will work closely with the Larne team which brings many years of oil and gas investment and technical experience in the US, the North Sea and Europe together with a strong investment base.
“The planned exploration activity – and any subsequent approved development – would be undertaken by conventional methods exploring for oil and gas in porous sandstone reservoirs and would not involve, either now or in the future, hydraulic fracturing, also known as ‘fracking’.
“Tendering for the drilling rig and services for the Woodburn Forest well has commenced. Subject to being granted remaining consents for the well and drilling rig availability,
it is anticipated that drilling will take place in early 2015. InfraStrata is planning to hold local public information events in November well in advance of any site works commencing.”
Referring to the time frame for the project, Dr Hindle added: “The operational activities on the site will be temporary and completed within four months and the well then plugged and abandoned and the site restored. Any re‐establishing of the site for further works, in the event of encouraging results from the well, would require planning permission.”
With the company also involved in a gas storage scheme at Islandmagee, Dr Hindle was keen to point out the potential benefits of both projects.
“Gas storage and oil and gas exploration if successful would be strategically important for energy security, infrastructure investment and the wider economy in Northern Ireland, whilst also providing wider benefits for the rest of the UK and Ireland,” he said.
“At present 100 percent of Northern Ireland’s oil and gas is imported. In Northern Ireland oil and gas accounts for 91 percent of total final energy consumption. This includes 61 percent of all electricity generation (where flexible gas fired power generation is particularly important to support intermittent renewable power generation).
“If oil or gas is encountered and successfully developed in County Antrim ‐ following the relevant approvals ‐ it would have a positive impact on local and national industry, with local job creation and other economic benefits.”