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Column: Want to boost the economy and create jobs? Drill for gas

The Lough Allen basin contains around €10 billion worth of gas – and extracting it could be exactly what Ireland needs, writes energy prospector Richard Moorman.

Richard Moorman

Earlier this month, a Leitrim councillor raised ‘serious concerns‘ over proposals to drill for gas in the Lough Allen area. The controversy centres around hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ – a method of extracting the gas which some have argued could damage the environment.

Richard Moorman, CEO of Tamboran Resources, believes this huge resource can be tapped safely – and could be a boon for Ireland.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Tamboran Resources and a few other companies were awarded Licensing Options in a competitive bid process to explore onshore for natural gas in Ireland. Our view of the potential of the Lough Allen basin is that this project could bring much to Ireland in the way of economic activity and job creation.

Companies have failed for decades to unlock the natural gas contained within rocks in the Lough Allen basin that are called tight sandstones and shales. The rocks were too complex for the past methods. However, the technology to extract natural gas from shale has improved so much over the past thirty years that North America has a surplus of natural gas and very low prices. This success is owed to the combination of technologies known as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. We want to bring the most advanced and safest elements of these improved technologies to Ireland’s Lough Allen basin.

The basin might contain as much as 10 trillion cubic feet (280 billion cubic meters). However, the outer edges of the basin are too thin and shallow for economic development. We plan to concentrate our efforts in a small area encompassing the north of Country Leitrim, the west of County Cavan, and the south of County Fermanagh. It might be possible to initially recover 10 per cent of the gas in place, or about one trillion cubic feet. If sold at forecast prices of nearly €10 per thousand cubic feet, this natural gas could represent total revenue of €10 billion.

We are still working on cost estimates, but it appears the total project cost could be €6 to €8 billion, including the drilling and production of gas from 500 up to 1,000 natural gas wells and associated pipelines, local expenses, salaries to employees, and taxes. This would enable a decent return for all project investors, corporate taxes to Ireland, and financial benefits to communities.

Hundreds of jobs

We believe this project could one day produce over 25 per cent of Ireland’s annual natural gas needs for over 20 years before gradually declining over another 30 years. Ireland currently imports over 85 per cent of its natural gas from non-Irish sources, leaving Ireland vulnerable to price increases and supply shortages. Onshore natural gas projects would help to protect Ireland from continental and Russian gas problems.

The project would initially employ about ten technical experts, mostly from Canada and the US. Unlike a mining project, where most jobs are created in the construction phase, this natural gas project would also grow jobs with every well drilled over our planned 10 to 15 year drilling horizon.

Eventually, hundreds of jobs could be created in several areas across Ireland, including from the manufacturing, transportation, and site construction of natural gas equipment. Additionally, many local jobs would be created through essential services to local staff over the 10 to 15 year drilling period, as well as the 20 to 50 year lifespan of the individual wells.

Many people are excited about the potential economic value of this project. People also naturally have legitimate concerns arising from the unknowns of something new to Ireland. We will be conducting open community meetings over the coming year starting in September so that everyone can hear about the project and speak directly with us.

As with all developments, there are some people that oppose this work. Some people have quite respectable concerns – they would like a world without industrial energy. A worthy goal, which we believe we should all work toward by reducing consumption and bridging from a coal and oil-based economy to natural gas usage on our way to more renewable energy future someday.

Unfortunately, several websites also show that a few other people are already spreading misinformation, accidentally or otherwise, about our project.

There’s also an American film entitled Gasland circulating which was produced to show some very poor operating practices in parts of the United States. After watching the film, some people have even been told that it is fundamentally unsafe to use hydraulic fracturing, a key technology in the success of shale gas extraction. We strongly disagree.

No reason for secrecy

Over 40,000 wells have already been hydraulically fractured in North America already. Any technology, even an automobile or a bicycle can lead to harm in the hands of a careless operator. A careful operator can safely handle even the most challenging of circumstances. Honesty, diligence, and a commitment to safety are essential to our work.

Fortunately, the regulators and community officials of Ireland would never permit the poor well construction, careless air emissions, excessive surface impacts and disregard for citizens implied by the film. And, in a project designed to drill for up to 15 years and produce for up to 50 years, any recklessness by a natural gas operator would be quickly visible to all and dealt with immediately.

Our commitment to everyone is the safe and responsible operation of all of the technologies and all of our wells to ensure protection of people and the environment. There is no reason for secrecy. There is also no reason to have to trade economic growth for reckless harm to the environment. Tamboran commits to be the most open and accessible operator you have ever seen. We will always diligently utilize advanced technologies to guard against failure and publicly display our work to you.

We see an exciting energy future in onshore natural gas for Ireland. In such a brief note, we have only touched the surface of the technologies and operations of this emerging shale gas project. Tamboran Resources welcomes your comments and questions, and will always openly share information on all of our proposed plans. We have considerable effort ahead of us to understand whether natural gas can be extracted cost-effectively, as well as to work closely with regulators, community officials and residents to ensure that all work is done safely and responsibly.

Citizens must also be given the chance to understand and address any specific localized impacts of this project. With the support of these key stakeholders in the Lough Allen basin, we could begin initial drilling on this project as early as 2013.

Richard Moorman is CEO of Tamboran Resources Pty Ltd, a privately held Australian unconventional oil and gas explorer with lands held by permit or under application in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and Botswana.

Read more: Everything you ever needed to know about fracking >

Read more: Never heard of ‘fracking’? You will soon >

Read more: ‘Serious concerns’ over gas drilling in Lough Allen area >

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