As part of its broader plans to frack in Northern and Southern Ireland, energy firm Tamboran Resources submitted an application to drill a shale gas exploration well at Belcoo near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, north of Ireland (one of the six counties administered under UK rule). The shale exploration well would be the first drilled in Ireland and is targeted on the Bundoran Shale, to a depth of around 750m. The fracking site is in an abandoned quarry north of Gardrum Road behind the main Acheson & Glover quarry.
The Australian company had hoped to discern whether there was enough shale gas in the region to warrant a formal licence to construct a fracking operation there. But the Belcoo site, renowned for its pristine natural beauty, subsequently became the focus of 24-7 demonstrations attended by local politicians, farmers, and campaigners who were stringently opposed to the prospect of hydraulic fracturing in their locale. A protest camp was set up outside the site and the community organized to resist Tamboran’s plans in the Belcoo Frack Free campaign.
Initially, the company's license was for three years, during which they were to do some works, including drilling a borehole and analysing rock samples. The company attempted to bypass the need for full planning permission to drill at Cleggan Quarry, relying solely on legislation relating to “permitted development rights.” Under this legislation, the firm could have drilled the borehole without carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In March 2014 they requested a six-month extension on this license to finish the work (until 30th September).
In July they arrived on site in Belcoo with the intention of drilling the 1,200m borehole in the Acheson and Glover quarry, which ignited an extensive protest by residents, farmers and campaigners, together with a 24-hour camp at the quarry entrance. No drilling rig arrived. Instead, it was discovered by campaigners that the quarry did not have planning permission for activities that had already taken place – excavation, blasting and removal of rock.
Also, there were questions over the environmental impacts of these activities on a stream that runs from the quarry into Lough MacNean.
Following careful consideration and numerous letters from concerned locals and political representatives, Minister Durkan declared on August 11th 2014 that a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was warranted before such planning permission could be issued.
On 30th September their license expired and the Minister Arlene Foster has not allowed another extension and terminated the license. However Tamboran is planning to challenge this in court.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a mammoth global auditing firm, estimates shale gas deposits in Northern Ireland may fetch as much as £80 billion - or approximately 1.5 billion barrels of oil. Other experts disagree, however, emphasizing the economic costs of fracking .