19 July 2001 Edition

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Worries about border gas exploration

BY ROISIN DE ROSA ([email protected])

Rumours and fear are rife in West Cavan and Fermanagh. Evergreen Resources, an American multinational, based in Colorado, USA, which has the license to prospect for hydrocarbons across a huge area of 1 million acres of land in the central region of Ireland, has just begun exploratory drilling.

The wide sedimentary basin, which reaches from Sligo to Carlingford, holds reservoirs of gas within the sandstone and shale at a depth of between 2,000 and 4,500 feet, which, with present drilling technology, may yield what euphemistically is called ``substantial returns''. But the question on everyone's lips is ``returns to whom?''.

People in West Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh look down the road to Corrib, where Minister Ray Burke sold out the nation's rights in a deal with multinational consortium Enterprise Energy Ireland, which meant no royalties and little prospect of any tax revenues accruing to the state over the life time of Corrib Gas Field.

According to its glossy colour brochure, ``Evergreen personnel have been on the `ground' since January evaluating the North West Carboniferous Basin (NWCB)''. On whose land have they been? Was it with permission of the landowners?

What is Evergreen prepared to pay for permission to drill on someone's land, which will leave a couple of acres dead land for several generations. What harm will drilling cause to the environment, and local water schemes, where drilling operations mean ``pumping specialised fluids and sand at high pressure into the sandstone reservoirs below.'' What are these ``specialised fluids''? People want to know. Evergreen hasn't said.

However Evergreen has announced that its initial exploration programme, with a £4.5 million spend, will drill five to seven wells between Lough Allen and Lough Erne. This programme has started with a drill rig operating at Slisgarrow, tucked away in the state forestry, where no permission from local farmers needs to be sought.

At the end of June, local people packed into a meeting in Glangevlin to find the answers to some of these questions. Evergreen was invited, but didn't come. Instead, the company sent a letter to the West Cavan Community Council where they had the effrontery to suggest that after the community had established their concerns they might form a committee, and the company might then make a spokesperson available to discuss these concerns with this committee.

This Friday, 20 July, there will be another meeting at the Slieve Russell Hotel. It remains to be seen whether Evergreen will take this opportunity to answer the justifiable fears and questions of local people.

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