A government minister is being called upon to explain how companies planning to use fracking in the Lough Allen Basin to extract gas do not hold petroleum prospecting licences (PPL), which campaigners argue is in breach of the legislation.
However the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) has told The Anglo-Celt that since work undertaken by the companies has so far not involved the acquisition of new seismic data, PPLs are unnecessary.
In March 2011, three companies - Enegi, Tamboran Resources and Lough Allen Natural Gas Company (LANGCO) - received licensing options from the Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) of DCENR.
One of the conditions of the licensing option requires the companies to hold a PPL "for the full period of the licensing option". Opponents of fracking also contend that this requirement is further required by legislation dating from both 2007, and 1960.
However a freedom of information request by Tom White, a member of the Love Leitrim campaign which opposes fracking, relating to the prospecting licences has revealed that none of the three companies possess a PPL. The response, seen by The Anglo-Celt, dated February 16, and signed by a PAD official reads: "...I would like to advise that the Department has not issued Petroleum Prospecting Licenses to the companies..."
Mr White believes the companies are violating their options licenses terms and conditions.
Asked to explain the absence of PPLs, a spokesman for DCENR told The Anglo-Celt:
"The general provision in relation to the holding of a PPL was included in the competition notice for the licensing round on the basis that work programmes carried out under licensing options would often involve the acquisition of new seismic data, for which a PPL would be required as this activity would involve searching for petroleum.
"No new seismic acquisition or other activity that would trigger the need for a PPL was carried out under any of the three onshore licensing options. So, the need for a PPL did not arise due to the nature of the work programmes carried out."
Reacting to the PAD’s response, Mr White, told The Anglo-Celt:
"The cornerstone argument around shale gas is that a regulatory framework will provide us with adequate protection. The Department’s response seems to indicate current onshore licensing regulations are being inconsistently applied and the application and granting process lack clarity."
He queried the Department’s assertion that no seismic data was acquired by the companies:
"Company statements indicate field work undertaken. The work programmes initially contracted to include drilling boreholes 200m deep, collecting samples and acquiring new geological and geophysical data.
"The 1960 Minerals Act, section 6 states no person other than the Minister may search for Petroleum (Gas) unless they hold a PPL, or an exploration Licence or a Reserved Area Licence. The Department’s decision not to issue PPLs, implies that these companies were not searching for gas. Company statements about prospecting seem inconsistent with this position."
He called for a "full open investigation" into why PPLs were not issued, and how this situation persisted for nearly two years, and for the suspension of any further onshore licensing until all the facts are known.
"We request a full review of the onshore licensing rules, regulations and processes with full public participation before any more licenses or applications are considered," he said.
Mr White has also written to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, seeking an explanation for the absence of PPLs.
Mr White refused to comment when asked if he was considering taking a legal challenge.
Tamboran Resources and Enegi last week made applications for exploration licences, which involve commitments to drill at least one exploration well and will require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in advance.