The head of a company which wants to drill for gas in the Northern Ireland countryside has vowed to cut power bills for consumers and provide a secure energy supply for 50 years.
Richard Moorman is the chief executive officer of Tamboran Resources, an Australian multinational which hopes to be given executive approval to carry out a controversial $6bn (£3.8bn) fracking operation in Fermanagh.
Earlier this year the company revealed it had identified a huge shale gas field in the county near the border with Leitrim.
Fracking involves drilling horizontally into the rock, forcing sand and water underground to cause tiny fractures that release the gas from the shale.
So far the Stormont Executive has approved only initial bore holes at the site. Environmentalists have said that fracking would devastate the environment.
However, Mr Moorman is confident the economic arguments will, in the end, prove unanswerable and that he can answer lingering environmental concerns and bring it to market by 2015.
This week he was in Northern Ireland to meet with utility regulator Shane Lynch to discuss supplying the local market.
In an exclusive interview, the Canadian told the Belfast Telegraph: “This will be safe, clean energy and it will supply Northern Ireland for 50 years.”
He said he intends to move to Ireland to personally oversee the cross-border fracking operation, which he believes could provide up to 3,000 jobs.
Most would be in Fermanagh where he hopes to sink 1,500 gas wells in ‘pads’ across the county, and concealed in buildings.
He is examining the possibility of getting local firms to supply the rigs for drilling in Fermanagh and is prepared to become equity partners in businesses which can supply his needs.
“Let’s say we need a service that doesn’t exist and we will find a local entrepreneur, and we will fund it and guarantee its work if he runs it,” he said.
He is budgeting for an investment of up to $300m (£185m) before the field self-finances and estimates a total investment of $6bn North and South.
Mr Moorman said: “The regulator made it clear that one of his main objectives is to make sure the price of energy falls. There is no way they would accept gas that didn’t reduce the price, and I am confident that we will meet that requirement from secure local supplies.”
He added: “This country has come within hours of not having enough gas. If that happens next winter attitudes would change remarkably quickly.”
A regulator spokeswoman confirmed that “an initial meeting” had taken place.
She added: “In terms of any future development of the gas industry in Northern Ireland, key factors to be considered would include the potential for securing the lowest possible prices for consumers and enhancing security of supply. Government may also want to consider any environmental and safety impacts associated with the extraction of gas.”
Fracking involves deep drilling to pump water at high pressure into shale deposits. The rock is fractured and gas is pumped to the surface. There have been environmental concerns, but Mr Moorman is confident he can meet them.
He will not be using chemicals, something which involved pumping the water at higher pressure.
He will recycle all water used afterwards using technology developed by South Western Energy, his last company. Fracking, like coal mining, can also cause earth tremors, but a recent report in Britain found that these were not serious enough to endanger life.
Mr Moorman believes careful monitoring can eliminate them.
Tamboran plans to use Ireland as a model which will help it secure further rights across Europe.
In the US fracking is endorsed by both main parties. It has produced gas prices at 50% of European levels and cut carbon emissions by 50% compared to oil-fired gas stations.
RICHARD MOORMAN ON...
HIS ENVIRONMENTAL CRITICS
“These guys claim to do all this research but they just watch Gasland (an award-winning US documentary which gives the case against fracking), 95% of the criticisms are from the film. They use pictures of fracking in the Rocky Mountains which look like a moonscape, but they don’t show operations in Alberta where there are cows grazing in the next field.”
THE FUTURE OF FRACKING HERE
“This will be safe, clean energy and it will supply Northern Ireland for 50 years. We plan to bring it to market in 2015. Production will build up over time and we still be producing after 2050, but at a lower level. Once you hit 120m cubic feet a day that is the entire consumption of Northern Ireland. We plan to reach that by 2020.”
“During those eight years I imagine other businesses who want a domestic supply of gas will run into town. I am thinking of fertiliser manufacturers, mining/smelting-type companies and other energy-intensive industries that would never start here without local power, and at present Ireland is at the end of a pipeline from Russia. If demand doesn’t rise enough and we over-supply Northern Ireland, we can reverse the taps and sell it to the Republic. They need more gas than we can extract on their side.”
IMPACT ON THE COUNTRYSIDE
“We will need about 40 to 60 ‘pads’ with around 24 wells on each, depending on how much of the area we want to develop. If you were driving along the road you will see one every two to four kilometres. We would consider housing them in barns. We would pay money into an account which would be used to return the site to its natural state. This means plugging wells, demolishing surplus buildings and replacing topsoil. At a guess, we would plant trees on a lot of them. That is 50 years off.”
HIRING LOCAL WORKERS
“We are starting our hiring programme this summer — 10 people on each side of the border to start with. Each one of them will get about 18 months training. So far we have received over 200 CVs unsolicited. If the field gets final approval and becomes fully operational the 40 pads will require 600 people to maintain them. Each pad is worth $70-$100 million. You don’t put minimum wage workers to look after that sort of investment. Oil and gas industry wages are high.”