Firm takes first step in bid to bore for oil and gas

This map, which is available to view at Craigavon Borough Council, shows the area of interest in pale pink to CHx LLC.
This map, which is available to view at Craigavon Borough Council, shows the area of interest in pale pink to CHx LLC.

AN international energy company could be boring for oil and gas in the borough and surrounding areas if a prospecting application is given approval by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

The firm, CHx Capital LLC, which has offices in the United States, Central America and Northern Ireland, made the application under the Petroleum (Production) Act N.I 1964.

The areas which fall under the application include Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon to the shoreline of Lough Neagh. Although part of the land stipulated comes within the jurisdiction of Craigavon Borough Council, villages like Waringstown, Donaghcloney and Gilford are not included.

The application is for an initial five-year period with provision for a further five-year extension, on the condition CHx Capital LLC has fulfilled its obligations to the satisfaction of the DETI. The move has sparked fears that the licence, if given the green light, could lead to the use of fracking, a process used to extract gas which has garnered controversy for environmental, agricultural and health concerns. There have been concerns the process could cause tremors, with two small earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011 suspected of being linked to ongoing work in the area.

Chx Capital LLC is also looking to explore Armagh, Antrim, Ballymena, Belfast, Cookstown, Dungannon, Lisburn, Magherafelt, Newtownabbey and north Down, with separate applications lodged in their respective council areas. The applications, cumulatively, are part of a 1,560 sq km exploration of Northern Ireland.

Anti-fracking campaigner, Majella McCarron is urging local people to lodge objections to the proposal. “The licence, once its awarded, can’t be revoked unless the company breaches the terms of it and the only other way if DETI could cancel it, but they would have to pay major compensation in that case,” she said.

A spokesperson from DETI issued the following statement, “It is important to emphasise that the department does not issue any licences for fracking. A Petroleum Licence grants the licensee exclusive rights to ‘search for, bore for, and get petroleum’ in the licence area but it does not give the licensee ‘carte blanche’ to carry out all the activities necessary to exercise those rights. The company’s operations are subject to a range of legislation covering issues such as environmental protection and health and safety matters.

“While the department is unable to give details of the exploration programme proposed by CHx in advance of a licence being awarded, it is worth looking at the information provided by CHx in their company profile, particularly in regard to their track record in Belize, their intention to use ‘low impact’ exploration methods and their stated commitment to environmentally friendly exploration.

“The subject of hydraulic fracturing is not relevant to this licence application because the applicant has not indicated any intention to explore for shale gas. Instead CHx have used the existing knowledge about the reservoir and caprocks, and applied an innovative geological model for the presence of mature source rocks, to propose an exploration programme targeting conventional oil and gas resources in this area.”

The spokesperson continued; “The legislation in Northern Ireland allows a company to apply for a petroleum licence at any time. Although the department has no statutory obligation to do so, notification is provided to a number of organisations including the district councils, informing them of the intention to grant a petroleum licence and inviting them to make representations to the department about any issues of concern.

“Prior to consultation, the department considers the Petroleum Licence application and determines whether the applicant meets all the criteria set out in the regulations. Once confirmed, DETI notifies [an extensive] list of organisations of its intention to grant a petroleum licence and invites them to make representations to the Department.

“Upon the expiration of the consultation period, the department considers any comments made by respondees and discusses same with the applicant prior to the award of the Petroleum Licence.

“In closing, and as outlined above, the company has not stated that it intends to use hydraulic fracturing techniques and nor has it identified shale gas as its primary target.”

Residents have until April 22 to lodge their objections to the application. The application and the map are available to view at the Civic Centre, Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 4.30pm.