Construction of an oil and gas exploration well at Woodburn forest has been delayed due to the beginning of the bird nesting season.
The development comes as InfraStrata, the independent petroleum exploration company behind the plans, confirmed that all of the relevant regulatory approvals have been granted for the project.
InfraStrata is committed to carrying out this conventional exploration in an environmentally‐responsible mannerDr Andrew Hindle
The most recent approval is a ‘Consent to Drill’, granted by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
DETI’s approval follows a separate consent issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Water Management Unit under the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.
This regulates the well in terms of surface water and groundwater impacts and includes the implementation of a monitoring plan to verify that no adverse impacts arise on neighbouring water bodies from the exploration activity.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said: “The well will be drilled to a depth of 2,000 metres and will be evaluating whether oil or gas has been trapped within porous sandstones below the site.
“The exploration is conventional and will not now or at any time in the future involve hydraulic fracturing (also known as ‘fracking’). InfraStrata has confirmed this in the form of a legal undertaking given to the landowner, NI Water.
“With the bird nesting season now commencing, the company [will be] postponing any site activity until after the season closes in September 2015.”
Meanwhile, the consent to drill approval demonstrates that DETI is “satisfied with the company’s plans for the proposed drilling operations”, according to InfraStrata CEO Dr Andrew Hindle.
“InfraStrata is committed to carrying out this conventional exploration in an environmentally‐responsible manner and in compliance with all conditions associated with regulatory approvals,” he added.
“In common with other petroleum exploration sites in the UK, the site at Woodburn forest has been designed as ‘zero discharge’. This will be done through the use of a geosynthetic clay liner to prevent any liquids on site from soaking into the ground below, thereby protecting local watercourses and ensuring there will be no adverse impact on the Woodburn River and Dams catchment.
“In addition to surface and groundwater monitoring plans agreed with NIEA, noise monitoring will also be carried out during the exploration to ensure that local residents are not disturbed by the activities on the temporary site. In accordance with the Permitted Development, the site will be restored to its former land use with trees replanted at the end of the 12‐week exploration programme.”
InfraStrata was awarded the petroleum exploration licence by DETI in March 2011. The licence area, which covers the Larne – Lough Neagh region of County Antrim, has been under‐explored for petroleum due to the presence of thick basalts near the surface, which in the past prevented an accurate imaging of the subsurface using seismic technology.
Over the past four years, InfraStrata has used the latest technology to obtain and process 400km of new seismic data which has provided a unique insight into the geology of the area.
Interpretation of the new seismic data has identified a number of geological structures which may have trapped oil and gas in the sub‐surface within the licence area, the company said.
Looking ahead to the drilling, Dr Hindle said: “The results from the exploration well will provide unique information about the geology under Woodburn forest to help establish whether or not Northern Ireland has the opportunity of having its own indigenous supply of oil or gas. At present, 100 percent of Northern Ireland’s oil and gas is imported.
“InfraStrata held public information events recently to explain what will be involved in the exploration work and we will continue to liaise directly with residents in the vicinity of Woodburn forest and other key stakeholders.”
In the event of encouraging results from the well, any re‐establishment of the site for further works, such as testing, would require further consents and planning approval.