Tamboran was established in 2009 with the aim of developing unconventional gas resource projects around the world. The company was granted a licence in April 2011 to explore for shale gas, and estimates it has found 124.6 bcm of shale gas resources, divided equally between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
While this discovery could supply the entire island with gas for five years, the project first has to gain planning approval from the two jurisdictions. Compared with the Republic, the process has been quicker in Northern Ireland, where Tamboran will shortly be looking for land on which to conduct the EIAs.
At a hearing of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Thursday, Tamboran’s Chief Executive Richard Moorman said that, once area geology studies were completed, the company would determine which sites would be most suitable to conduct tests, then landowners would be approached to either buy or lease their land. This should happen shortly as Tamboran expects to get its 12-month EIA studies completed by mid- to late-2013.
Tamboran will seek planning permission to drill up to five wells sequentially – a $5 million investment process for the company. This will allow the company to conduct more indepth tests to confirm its 62.3 bcm estimate. If the reserves are there, the company will apply for a full licence, which typically takes between 12 and 15 months. After that, it could theoretically bring gas onstream in 2016.
Tamboran hopes to alleviate public concerns by reducing the project’s environmental footprint. This includes building a central wellpad so equipment can be shared between the different plays, making the project more efficient. There is often one pad per square mile in the United States. In this instance, the company envisions between eight and 24 in the same area. Considering the formation is about 500 m thick, about five times what is typically found in the US, it is a more efficient method of extraction.
Tamboran is not interested in exporting the gas. Considering the shale formation is expected to be able to supply five years’ worth of Irish demand, and Tamboran expect to operate the facility over a 50-year period, building a pipeline to the interconnector pipelines for export is unlikely to make financial sense. Moorman said that 97% of Northern Ireland’s gas was imported, and sourcing domestic gas would result in more competitive prices. He highlights that the US sells gas for $2 per gigajoule, while in Europe the price is in the order of $12 to $15. He also expects European gas prices to continue to rise in the coming years in line with oil prices.
In terms of water usage, the company hopes to meet 50% of its needs through rainwater and the rest through water wells on site, and it said it will aim for a 100% recycling rate. Another risk to water contamination is the need to properly close up the wells at the end of their lifetime, which would be done with steel and cement cappings.
Another important issue is chemical use in the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) process. “We are always very clear that chemicals are used in the fracking process,” Richard Moorman told Interfax after the hearing. “Drilling will be conducted in two parts: the vertical drill section of the wellbore will be drilled with air to avoid any impacts on groundwater, and the horizontal drill section needs a conventional drilling mud, which is clay-based (bentonite, which is a product used in hospitals for digestive problems, for example).”
In the face of mounting public opposition to shale gas extraction, the Republic of Ireland has still not decided what stance to take on fracking (see Water pollution from fracking unlikely in Ireland – report, 11 May 2012). Similar pressures are felt in Northern Ireland, with the project still largely dependent on addressing all of the concerns raised by opposition groups.