Oil drilling firm Infrastrata gets planning go-ahead for exploratory well in Co Antrim
An oil and gas drilling firm has won planning permission to drill an exploratory well in Co Antrim which it says could hold around 450m barrels of oil.
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Infrastrata said it expects to test drill the 'Larne-Lough Neagh basin', running from the tip of Lough Neagh to Larne, by November, subject to approval from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
The company will also need to complete an agreement for a lease over the land for the well site and secure funding for the well.
A licence to explore the area was awarded to the firm in March 2011 by Deti, covering 663 sq kms.
The planning permission allows a window for activities on site between September and March and Infrastrata said that plans are progressing well towards site construction, with a dataroom already opened.
The initial well will target an area estimated to hold around 40m barrels of oil.
Over 450m barrels of oil have been estimated to lie within the whole licence area and another area offshore of the Larne-Lough Neagh Basin could bear an estimated 150m barrels of oil.
A license on this new area is due to be awarded soon.
Initially a joint venture between InfraStrata and Nautical, the latter firm has now pulled out of the arrangement after it was acquired by Cairn Energy plc, and InfraStrata will acquire their 20% interest, subject to Deti approval.
Stewart Dalby, editor of Oilbarrel.com, an investor website for small cap oil gas companies and previously Ireland correspondent for the Financial Times, said that news of the exploration well is exciting, but that all estimates are speculative.
"Historically this basin has been underexplored with only one well by Shell drilled in the 1970s," he said.
"Success elsewhere in Northern Ireland has led many to believe the province could be highly prospective for oil and gas.
"Even with the latest seismic testing the chance of success for most wells is only 33% at best," he warned.
Infrastrata is not the only company looking for oil in Northern Ireland.
This time last year, Providence Resources said it believed that around 200m barrels of oil could be recovered close to Rathlin Island, producing around $20bn (£13bn) in revenue.
The area explored covers around 30 sq kms. The firm is leading a drilling programme on a number of exploration and development wells off the Irish shore. The $500m (£317m) investigation is taking place in six areas. As well as oil, other firms are seeking shale gas and even gold beneath our soil.