"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
INITIAL INDICATIONS from exploration drilling in the northwest show that the area could hold enough natural gas to supply Irish needs for 12 years and create a total of 3,000 jobs.
Tamboran Resources, which has exploration drilling licences on both sides of the Border in the northwest region, said yesterday that its initial studies have confirmed the existence of a “substantial natural gas field” in northern Leitrim.
The company has already been the focus of a series of protests in the region because it is proposing to extract the gas using hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – a technique that has been blamed in the US for contaminating water supplies and other environmental problems.
Tamboran’s findings suggest that production there could ultimately reach 2.2 trillion cubic feet of gas, worth $55 billion at yesterday’s prices, which were around $2.50 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York.
The company said yesterday that the field could hold the equivalent of 12 years worth of Irish daily natural gas consumption.
Over 90 per cent of the natural gas consumed here every day is imported and the fuel is used to generate more than 60 per cent of electricity supplies.
Tamboran yesterday estimated that the Leitrim field would substantially cut these imports for up to 40 years and argued that it would help secure future energy supplies for the island of Ireland.
In a statement, chief executive, Richard Moorman, confirmed that Tamboran’s initial analysis suggests the presence of very substantial shale gas reserves in the north Leitrim area.
“Allowing for even modest rates of recovery, the energy and economic benefits would be tremendous,” he claimed.
The statement said that if the field were commercially developed, this would create 600 jobs directly and the knock-on effect would result in a further 2,400 new jobs.
It could also yield a substantial benefit for the State, which could get €4.9 billion in corporate, exploration and employment taxes.
Tamboran says it intends investing €7 billion in the region. Along with this, if the find hits its commercial targets, it has pledged to create a local investment fund that will channel €2 million a year into Leitrim.
Late last year, Mr Moorman told The Irish Times that the company had talks with Sligo Institute of Technology about the possibility of providing training for prospective workers.
Tamboran only holds exploration licences for the area. If it wants to go ahead and begin extracting the gas, it has to apply to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for further permits allowing it to do this.
In the meantime, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to commission an independent study into the practice.
Fracking involves pumping large quantities of water at a rock face, deep underground, to create fissures or cracks through which natural gas can escape and be captured. It is used on rock types that are not porous enough to allow gas to be extracted by normal drilling techniques. The rocks are mainly shale, which is why the fuel extracted by fracking is known as “shale gas”.
Tamboran plans to drill at 500m-1,500m under ground, using drill bits sealed in chambers constructed of steel pipe and cement designed to prevent contamination of soil or groundwater.
While chemicals are normally used in the process as lubricants, Mr Moorman has said Tamboran believes they would not be necessary in Leitrim.
Last month, the company issued a statement saying that it supports tough regulation and full-scale monitoring, embracing boreholes and drilling, seismic activity, and air and water quality.
Tamboran is one of three companies carrying out onshore natural gas exploration in Ireland.
Tamboran is a privately held Australian and Canadian-based exploration company with licences and assets in Ireland, Australia and Africa.