Northern Ireland

Rathlin Energy blames Ballinlea borehole planning delay for withdrawal

Ballinlea Image copyright Rathlin Energy
Image caption Rathlin Energy found a small amount of crude oil in its first exploration well at Ballinlea.

A Canadian-owned company that holds the licence for oil and gas exploration on the north coast of Northern Ireland is to withdraw from the area.

Rathlin Energy had wanted to drill a 2,700-metre borehole at Ballinlea, between Ballycastle and Bushmills.

However, it said delays in securing planning permission meant it "could not justify further work" on the site.

Its five-year licence was due to expire next January, but the firm said it had already given notice of termination.

'Length and complexity'

The company has held the onshore licence since 2008 to drill in what is known as the Rathlin Basin, a geological area that stretches from Ballycastle in County Antrim to Limavady in County Londonderry.

The borehole it had planned would have been the second one to be drilled in the area by Rathlin Energy.

During their initial explorations they found a small amount of crude oil.

Image caption The Rathlin Basin runs from Ballycastle to Limavady and Dungiven

Rathlin Energy chairman David Montagu-Smith said it wanted to drill a second well to evaluate the results obtained from the first one.

He said the "immediate cause" of its decision to quit was the "length and complexity of the process for securing planning permission for the second exploration well".

"We submitted a planning application for the second well in June 2013 and, regrettably, we have no sense of knowing when there will be a determination of the application," he said.

"The business of oil exploration in Northern Ireland, a region with little past history of the industry, was always going to be a technical challenge, and the risk of disappointment very high.

"It is therefore particularly regrettable that, notwithstanding the encouraging signs of oil we have found at Ballinlea, we are not going to be able, for reasons which have nothing to do with geology or our technical operations, to continue our work."

He added: "After all the work we have done, including a significant investment in the local economy, we very much regret that the conditions needed to support the development of oil and gas potential do not currently appear to be present in Northern Ireland."

Campaigners opposed to the drilling of the second borehole said they feared it might lead to extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

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