Plug was pulled on oil well after investor dispute
Most firms in project wanted to drill deeper, company says
A number of investors pulled out of the Woodburn Forest drilling operation, even though other partners in the joint venture wanted to go deeper in search of oil and gas, it has emerged.
Project leader InfraStrata announced last week that the controversial drill site would be plugged and abandoned after no oil or gas was found.
It has now emerged that the majority of the nine partners in the consortium wanted to drill deeper, but the decision was made to abandon the well after several members declined.
While the rig was removed earlier this week, at least one group involved the project believes a "viable petroleum system" exists in the Larne Basin, and that the Woodburn drill was a step in the right direction.
The borehole attracted a vigorous campaign by protesters and local people who questioned the decision to carry out oil exploration close to a reservoir that supplies drinking water to thousands of homes.
Among the investors was Peru-based Baron Oil plc, which noted that the drilling took place under "difficult circumstances".
Another investor, Petro River Oil, based in New York, said the well showed promising findings in the form of thermogenic gas and described the discovery as good step. It added it was moving forward its efforts to explore the Larne Basin.
Petro River Oil said the original intention was to drill down to the Carboniferous layer, but the Permian section had thickened considerably and the first target was not reached.
"A majority of the well participants supported drilling deeper, however, several of the other well participants declined, and the decision was made to plug and abandon the well," a spokesman for Petro River Oil said.
"The presence of thermogenic gas supports our original assessment of the existence of hydrocarbon source rock in the Carboniferous and a viable petroleum system."
Petro River Oil added it would now be working with partners to use the data gleaned from the Woodburn borehole to focus on the next phase of development.
The company's chief geological adviser Jamie Rector explained: "The Woodburn Forest-1 well confirmed a primary objective of showing the presence of thermogenic gas.
"Structural complexity, the absence of well control and modern seismic did not allow us to optimize the well location."
Petro River president Stephen Brunner said: "We made an incremental step in the right direction. And while we were unable to drill the well to the original target of the Carboniferous, the discovery of the thermogenic gas is promising.
"We are encouraged and are moving forward in our efforts to explore the Larne Basin."
Campaigners Stop The Drill said it was clear that if the drill had gone ahead as a planning application it would have failed. Opposition to the project was backed by unions and a Belfast City Council motion calling for a review of the rights to drill in the protected water catchment.
"We will ensure that in the future proper consultation and scrutiny takes place and that a drill like Woodburn never happens again," Stop the Drill said.
A lunchtime parade organised by Friends of the Earth, the ICTU and Belfast Trades Council will take place at Woodburn Forest on Saturday.