Northern Ireland

Rathlin Energy Ballinlea borehole plans cause controversy

Map of drill area
Image caption The company wants to drill a borehole at Ballinlea on the north coast

A campaign group has met to organise opposition to the drilling of a borehole 2,700 metres below the ground on the north coast.

A company called Rathlin Energy wants to drill the borehole to look for gas or oil that might be trapped in the coal or shale that lies beneath.

The plans are for Ballinlea, between Ballycastle and Bushmills.

Almost 100 people met in the local Orange hall to voice opposition to the plans.

Campaigners say they fear that if anything is found in early tests it might lead to extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it's commonly known, where a pipeline is laid underground.

The process sees a mixture of water, sand and chemicals forced into the rock. The pressure causes it to facture then releases the gas, allowing it to flow out, to the head of the well.

It is controversial, because in places like the US, on the one hand it is estimated to have halved gas prices, but environmental and safety concerns have been raised about the process.

Rathlin Energy has said what is proposed is within the range of recognised and conventional exploration techniques and deny the planning proposal is for high-volume fracking.

However, some people living in the area have said the assurance is not enough.

Ivor Rammage, who has the closest house to the site, said: "There are the concerns over the emissions, the traffic.

"It isn't just a cursory dislike of this planning application, there are just too many unknowns, too many implications for the local community and long-term implications."

Image caption Ivor Rammage said there were too many unknowns involved in the plan

The borehole would be the second drilled in the area by Rathlin Energy. The Canadian-owned energy company has held the licence for oil and gas exploration in the North West since 2008.

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

In a statement the company said it was "regrettable that Protect Our North Coast, through its literature, presents a different perspective of the proposed drilling operation".

The company describes it as a deviation from the facts and say it raises "unnecessary and unjustifiable" concerns among local residents.

The Department of the Environment is still considering the application for the second Ballinlea site.

More on this story