Northern Ireland

Tamboran legal challenge to licence termination

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Media captionThe fracking firm, Tamboran, faced opposition to its plans to drill a gas exploration borehole at a quarry in Belcoo

A company that plans to drill for shale gas in County Fermanagh has said it plans to take legal action to challenge the termination of its licence.

Tamboran plans to extract gas using the controversial fracking technique.

It was granted a petroleum licence in 2011. It had three years to either inform the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) on its decision to drill or drop its plans.

This deadline passed on Tuesday and an extension was not granted.

Its lawyers will now seek judicial reviews of both Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster's decision not to extend the licence and Environment Minister Mark H Durkan's rejection in August of a request to drill a borehole at the site near Belcoo.

'Engagement'

The terms of Tamboran's licence had required the company to drill a borehole to take rock samples and carry out a preliminary environmental review within the three-year period.

In March, DETI granted a six-month extension until 30 September 2014 for the company to complete the first part of the work programme.

However, Mrs Foster said she could not extend the deadline again as she did not believe the company could complete this.

"There has been much engagement with Tamboran and we have assessed that they have not completed their work plan in terms of the licence and, therefore, we will not be extending it any further," she said.

Responding to the decision, the Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Phil Flanagan tweeted: "Important to realise Arlene Foster didn't turn Tamboran down for an extension because she's suddenly anti-fracking, but for timing reasons."

'Close the door'

Tamboran said it had requested an extension of the deadline after informing DETI that it would be moving for a judicial review of the decision by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to reject its request to drill a borehole at the site.

In a statement, the company added: "After investing in excess of £3m to date, we are disappointed that DETI failed to consider the option of a temporary extension pending clarification by the court as to the timeliness for the judicial review.

"This decision as it stands could close the door on a project that could deliver up to 50 years of secure energy supply, in excess of 2,000 jobs and billions of much-needed investment in the local economy."

A Tamboran spokesman said the company's lawyers would also be seeking a judicial review of DETI's decision.

Image caption Protesters staged vigils at the site near Belcoo

Tamboran moved on to the site of a quarry near Belcoo in July and said it planned to drill a 750m deep borehole to see if the levels of gas would make extraction commercially viable.

The move led to protests by those opposed to gas exploration and fracking.

Protesters said they feared a borehole could be the first step towards setting up an industry that they believe could damage the environment and the health of people living nearby.

Donal O'Cofaigh from the anti-fracking campaign group, Belcoo Frack Free, said that not renewing the license was a "significant decision".

"There would be no opposition if this was a standard gas development," he said.

In August, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said drilling could have a significant impact on the environment and ruled that Tamboran would have to make a full planning application with an accompanying environmental statement before drilling at the site.

Tamboran said it was "deeply concerned" by the decision.

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