Stephen Rennicks is a North-West based artist (one of the areas at risk from hydraulic fracturing for shale gas). Here Forever is an ongoing research project he undertook in 2011 during the Trade Residency program about the previously drilled exploratory gas wells within what is known as the Lough Allen Basin in the North-West of Ireland. This happened between 1963 and 2001 with six sites in the Republic that he visited and has detailed here. He has given a number of public presentations of his research and field work entitled Here Forever: Investigating Ireland’s Exploratory Gas Wells 1962 – 2001.
For my own work outside of the awareness campaign I concentrated mainly on the past and present situation in relation to what I see as the central fiction of Tamboran, who are one of the main gas exploration license holders in Ireland. This is that they promise to return the land to how it was before they arrived. With this in mind I made a video (close to base of this page) to partly show that this has never been the case with even relatively light industry in this region in the past.
I was also very drawn to finding the locations of and solving the mysteries surrounding sites previously drilled by other exploration companies here since the 1960s. I felt strongly that what had happened at those sites at that time and since then would be a good indication of how large exploration companies could behave in the future and of how things may turn out here if they were ever to return.
In the course of my research and field work I uncovered evidence which proved that two of these companies, Marinex aka Aran Energy and Evergreen Resources Inc, conventionally fracked wells in both Northern and Southern Ireland between 1981 and 2002. It’s not that this information was ever covered up, but it was not widely known or remembered. No one was aware of fracking in 1981 and only a few were by 2001 in Ireland.
Since then, this information of mine regarding Dowra-1 & 2 (outside Glangevlin, Co. Cavan) and Thur Mountain was followed up with questions in the Dail (see below), an article in the Leitrim Observer in December 2011, an article in Anglo Celt in April 2012 and a video on Dublin Community Television in November 2012.
While traces of these sites and the wells themselves will be here forever, the majority of the 6 wells drilled in the Republic have thankfully on the surface been largely reclaimed by nature (with the major and very worrying exception of Dowra-1 & 2). These small test/exploratory sites should not be confused with the up to 7 acre sites planned by Tamboran and other companies which would be multi-wellpad, horizontally drilled, hydraulically fracked and 24 hour operations with a 30 year lifespan or more.
I will continue to update this page from time to time. To this end please send me any additional information or images, new and old, you may have by email to rennicksstephen at eircom.net
I have created a fact sheet with the basic information on this subject which you could print out and circulate. One useful link for finding information on these wells is located at IPAS where you can search this State database with either the name of the well or operator. This is also a good link for more information on some of these wells and ones in Northern Ireland from the same period. A number of Dail Questions were answered on this subject on 21st March 2012 which I have made a PDF of at this link.
Site No. 1
60cm X 120cm print
‘DANGER Keep Out’, so reads a small sticker on a strange small green truck container I found in a storage yard belonging to Cavan county council. It is located just outside the small and picturesque town of Glangevlin and in the course of my research I uncovered information that this well was conventionally hydraulically fractured.
Evergreen Resources Inc, a huge and still operational US gas company, based in Denver, Colorado, who had exploratory rights in this region, filed a quarterly report on 13th August 2002 which included the lines: “The Company has completed fracture stimulation operations on five of its six tight gas sand wells in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Bottom hole pressure tests and production tests on all five wells are currently being performed. Evergreen expects to complete the testing of these wells and set temporary bridge plugs at the end of 2002’s third quarter.”* As it turned out Evergreen would pull out of its Irish and U.K. operations in 2003, having never developed any commercial wells (they said at the time it was not commercially viable). The current holders of those controversial licenses on the island of Ireland are now Tamboran, Energi Oil and others.
This well is officially recorded as Dowra No. 2 and work began there on 21st October 2001 and ended just over a month later. The drilling contractor was Marriot Drilling and they went down 4402 feet (1341 metres) which is over three quarters of a mile. Here is a PDF I got of an Evergreen Resources 2001 presentation (which states that their wells would be fracked in Ireland) from 20th July of that year which they presented to concerned local people at a public meeting in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan. One of which was Andy King who kept his copy all this time and scanned it and gave it to me.
I held my camera inside one of the vents (venting what exactly and would this have been safe for people living nearby?) and took a flash photo on my digital camera of what was inside and checking my screen first saw the image of the now rusting well head. This could very well still be the ‘temporary’ bridge plug mentioned above. As another company report, also available online reads: “The Company expects to spend only nominal amounts during the remainder of 2003 for exiting and winding down its operations in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.”*
Some of my questions would be…Did they cause pollution? Is this well and the others they left behind them safe and being maintained? Has the well ruptured at any point along its casing? Is this how we can expect all exploration companies to behave or can we expect to see many more ‘DANGER Keep Out’ signs once they leave? One thing is for sure, once a company such as this one is allowed to start the results will be here in one shape or form forever.
Nearby (perhaps as little as 15 metres) is an earlier well called Dowra No. 1 (scroll down for more detailed report and larger picture of the drill onsite) which was originally drilled in the early 1960s by Ambassador Irish Oil Company (the small b&w picture to left is of this drilling rig on site at Glangevlin). It was re-entered by a company called Marinex in 1981 “who tried to improve the permeability and gas production by acidising and fracturing the reservoir interval.” According to the same official study on exploration and development in Northern Ireland, “the flow-rates increased almost tenfold from approximately 30,000 cubic feet of gas per day (CFGD) to 250,000 CFGD.” The same company regrouped as Aran Energy and returned within its licence period to drill at Drumkeeran-1 and Mac-Nean-2, see details below (thankfully these wells were not fracked).
My main point regarding this issue is that the original well would now have been almost 20 years old and was not designed to have high pressure fracturing take place inside it. For example there would not have been the thick cement barrier used today which surrounds the borehole as it passes through the water table. From Dail Questions in 2012 we now know that this re-entry was conventionally fracked by the contractor Dowell Schlumberger and a cocktail of chemicals was used. Surely damage may have been caused to the well and the mixture could have escaped into the water table along with unrefined gas into the atmosphere. Couple this with the conventional fracking just a few metres away another 20 years later at Dowra-2 and we have potentially many new and old fractures under the ground running into each other, providing routes for chemicals, dirty water and unrefined gas to escape.
The escapes may have happened and still be happening to some degree anywhere in the vicinity of this site. For example there is a white substance and strong smell of sulphur emerging from the ground further down the hill from this site and running straight into the Owenmore river which connects to Lough Allen which in turn runs into the Shannon. An equally unknown brown mire is also running into the river close by as well. This may turn out to not be directly connected to the fracking but it is something that should be properly investigated by a state sponsored team of experts to find out for sure. A video of these substances has already been posted by Lough Allen Conservation Association on YouTube. I have been there a number of times myself now and seen and smelled it myself and know it is not natural for this area. Also, during routine testing Waterways Ireland located heavy metals in the waters at the top end of Lough Allen (near where the Owenmore river enters) in 2012 and no one has discovered where they came from to date. This also may not turn out to be connected but surely this is also something which needs to be investigated fully.
It would also be reassuring to see some paper work regarding how these two companies dealt with the percentage of returned water that always comes back to the surface after fracking. How was it safely stored while on the sites and where and how was it disposed of when they left? There must be records somewhere of the disposal of hazardous fluids at least.
This was the answer to a Dail question on this subject by the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on 21/3/12.
“I propose to take Question Nos. 318, 321 & 322 together. Before addressing the detail of the questions asked by the Deputy I believe it would be helpful to first clarify for the Deputy the difference between the fracturing of wells in the case of conventional gas exploration and production and the practice known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” that is used in the case of exploration and production of unconventional gas. In the case of conventional gas exploration, such as that carried out in the north west of Ireland over a number of decades, the practice of fracking a very short section or sections of a vertical well has been commonly used internationally by the oil industry for very many decades. In the case of unconventional gas exploration, use of the technology is more recent and generally involves fracking of very long sections of horizontal wells. With unconventional exploration significantly larger volumes of liquids are also used. The exploration carried out in the north west of Ireland since the 1960s was “conventional exploration”.
“Conventional fracking has been applied in the case of three onshore wells – Dowra-1 Re-entry (1981), Dowra 2 (2002) and Thur Mountain 1 (2002) – as follows: Dowra-1 Re-entry was operated by Aran Energy / Marinex. The contractor that performed the fracking was Dowell Schlumberger. Dowra 2 was operated by Evergreen Resources who also performed the fracking. Thur Mountain 1 was operated by Evergreen Resources who also performed the fracking. The chemicals used in the Dowra 1 Re-entry well are listed as: 15% HCl, A200 Inhibitor, F75N Surfactant, Ball Sealers, U42 Chelant, WF-15-10, Nitrogen, YF 1.5 PSD fracturing fluid and sand; while those used for the Dowra 2 and Thur Mountain 1 wells are listed as: Fresh Water, 15% HCl, Nitrogen Foam (Fracturing Fluid), Guar Gellant, Foam Surfacant, Breaker E Enzyme Breaker and X-cide 207 Bactericide.”
“Details of these chemicals are included in the detailed reports relating to wells drilled both offshore and onshore Ireland and these reports are available for purchase from my Department’s data management agent. The induced fractures which were extremely short, less than 100ft, and were limited to short intervals within the wellbores coinciding with sandstone reservoir rock and occurring at depths between approx 2500ft and 4000ft.”
“I have made clear to the House on a number of occasions that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme, would be subject to planning permission requirements and a full environmental impact assessment. An Environmental Impact Assessment entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population,fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors. Under the EIA Directive it should be noted that it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.”
Answers to all 3 Dail Questions on this matter (21st March 2012).
Since then on 25th June 2013 on a subject of environmental policy Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked in the Dail who is the person that owns the site of Dowra-2 in County Cavan; the person responsible for maintaining this site; if the Environment Protection Agency is monitoring this site and any emissions that may come from the drilling there; if he will outline the history of ownership and operations at this site; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd) answered, The matters raised by the Deputy regarding ownership of a site and monitoring of environmental emissions are matters which fall outside the scope of my statutory remit. My role, pursuant to the Minerals Development Act 1960, extends to the licensing of petroleum exploration activities, including granting consent to the drilling of petroleum exploration and production wells.
The Dowra 2 onshore gas exploration well was drilled in 2001 by Evergreen Resources pursuant to Licence ON2/01. In drilling Dowra 2, Evergreen employed standard oil industry drilling and testing processes and the well was drilled in accordance with my Department’s Rules and Procedures.
The Dowra 2 well was permanently plugged and abandoned in 2003, in accordance with accepted procedures and as approved by my Department and this work was signed off by the Independent Well Examiner in June 2003. The condition of all below-surface aspects of the well has, therefore, been dealt with satisfactorily. Cavan County confirmed to my Department in August 2003 that the well site was left in a satisfactory condition.
In relation to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is an independent Agency and the Deputy should contact it directly in relation to any role that it may have.
This implies Evergreen returned to the site sometime before 2003 to permanently plug the well and that Cavan County Council and an independent well examiner were all satisfied with the condition of the well at that time. I hope this is the case but I still think the concerns I raise here about past and current pollution going into the Owenmore river nearby; the re-entry and fracturing of such an old well nearby (Dowra-1) in 1981; the potential for new (2001) and old (1981) fractures meeting underground in wells so close together as well as the general maintenance of this rusting plug (temporary or permanent) should be monitored from time to time in a transparent way that the public can be assured of the safety of the site and its surroundings.
Not that I would advise anyone to trespass or put their health at risk by going there but if your interested the exact location on the road can be viewed on StreetView here. It is through the gates and to your left.
Site No. 2
I managed to locate the main site of MacNean No. 2 (plus MacNean-1) on the edge of Lough MacNean outside Blacklion, Co. Cavan in November 2011. It was operated by a company called Aran Energy in April to June of 1984 who contracted Boldon Drilling Ltd to do the drilling. They went down 4968 feet (1514 metres) which is just under a mile.
I returned here in April 2012 with a driver of one of the trucks used for delivering hardcore and stones to the site in 1984 and he brought me to the far right corner of the site looking from the road where he remembers the drilling rig being. Sure enough we soon located a cement platform under moss which we believed was how they sealed the well. He also told me that after the drilling was finished many of the stones used to make the land secure for heavy equipment were taken away and used elsewhere and that is why the site is sunken in places, particularly around MacNean-1 nearby, see below.
Earlier I was told there was a picture of a drilling rig in operation on the mantle-piece of The Melrose Inn in Dowra, Co. Cavan of all places so I went to see and there it was. The bar owner let me take a photograph of it which you can see below. Taken at night with 1984 written in the top right hand corner and confirmed by the owner that it was MacNean-2 outside Blacklion. You can actually see the platform from this StreetView link but again you may be trespassing if you chose to visit it.
Site No. 3
It doesn’t look like much now but this is the location of the exploratory well known as Drumkeeran-1. Finding the site came from a conversation with Bridget Foy who had been invited by Engage Collective to provide her locally produced organic food at our opening so people could also experience one of the things at risk. It is located on the right hand-side of the road in the townland of Glackaunadarragh, Co. Leitrim as you exit Arigna on the post office road. I first went to the site with Bridget, who lives nearby, which is said to have a metal well head that is flush with the ground (she and her neighbour managed to find it when they previously went there a year ago) but after two visits and a decent search I couldn’t locate it on the now well overgrown site which covers about an acre. It does still have the tell-tale cement and hardcore platform area though and is still remembered locally. I was told that a young local man on a Honda 50 used to travel ahead of the trucks on the narrow mountain road warning oncoming cars to pull in. I was also told by one of those drivers who brought stone to secure the site foundation that the drilling rig truck collapsed the bog road at one point of its ascent and had to be freed.
It was drilled for 3 months from June to September 1984 by Aran Energy Plc who used the drilling contractor Boldon Drilling Ltd and was done just after they did MacNean 2, above. They went down 8236 feet (2510 metres) which is over a mile and a half. In this case nature has almost completely recovered the site in what is still a very scenic area. It is now used for storage of silage bales and broken farm machinery by a local farmer. You can locate this site and see the entrance from the road using the following Street View link. The site is private property.
Site No. 4
The wonderfully named Thur Mountain-1 is located on the right hand side of the road as you travel between Glenfarne and Kiltyclougher on the R281 in the townland of Laghtybarr in Co. Leitrim. This exploratory well was licensed to Evergreen Resources Inc while the drilling was contracted to Marriott Drilling. They worked here for 17 days during December 2001 before moving to Dowra-2 near Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. They went down 4696 feet (1431 metres) at this location which is just under a mile.
Today there is simply a large expanse of flattened cement and hardcore scattered ground. It has since then been used as a place to store gravel for the local council and for storing and loading felled trees from the surrounding forestry. The ground has become very muddy and there is no visible well head to be seen. It may be under one of the gravel piles (rather dangerous if so) or at some point flush with the ground if it is here. According to their own reports and the March 2012 Dail questions, see above, this was one of the wells in the Republic of Ireland where they carried out ‘fracture stimulation’ (fracking). The entrance from the road and location can be seen from this StreetView link.
Site No. 5
MacNean-1 was licensed to a US corporation called Ambassador Irish Oil Company (who would later become Marathon Oil and Gas) who contracted the drilling to Loffland Bros. The drilling at this site started at the beginning of July 1963 and ended a month later. They went down 5416 feet (1650 metres) which is just over a mile. They found small deposits of gas which were judged not commercially viable. According to official maps online MacNean-1 is indicated to be just south-west of MacNean-2, details above. The scale of these maps however is not accurate and they also have no other features indicated. Therefore using the known site of MacNean-2 as a reference I combed the fields around this spot and finding no likely platform I came to the conclusion they must have drilled both wells in the same general area. Even though 20 years would have elapsed between drills this makes more sense to me than the additional expense of covering another area with hardcore and dealing with perhaps a different landowner. Plus this also appears to be the case at the joint site of Dowra-1 and 2. There is an obvious raised stone platform not further than 30 metres south-west of MacNean-2’s now cement covered platform which to me looks like the most likely spot. This is the site then which I have pictured to represent MacNean-1.
I was surprised to find a mound of leftover metal piping sections when I first went here in Nov 2011, which can be clearly seen in the photo above, but when I returned in Feb 2012 all of these sections were gone. A clean up or did someone see my photo and decide to sell them for scrap? I retrieved one on my first visit and it is also pictured below. I’m not saying these were from 1963 as the same site was also used in 1984 for MacNean-2. There is no well head which could be long covered over, filled in at the time or collapsed after almost 50 years. However if anyone has any information to the contrary I would be very grateful if you would get in touch. You can find it using the same StreetView link as MacNean-2 above.
Site No. 6
Dowra-1 outside Glangevlin, Co. Cavan (after post office on right hand side on road to Dowra) was also drilled by Ambassador Irish Oil Company (contracted to Loffland Bros.) from the start of January 1963 for 44 days until late February. Incidentally Ambassador also drilled wells at this time near Trim, Co. Meath; Meelin, Co. Cork; Doonbeg, Co. Clare and Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny. All of which turned out to be dry. Dowra-1 is actually the very first onshore well where gas was discovered in Ireland, revealing for the first time the gas field which is now so contentious. They went down 6005 feet (1830 metres) at this time which is just over a mile. I found an image of a gas flare being let off from this wild cat well which comes from Geology of Sligo-Leitrim, published by GSI that I heard about and got a loan of from the electrician who worked on our exhibition. I find the more I ‘talk about fracking’ the more information I get!
This well was re-entered and conventionally fractured by Marinex aka Aran Energy sometime in 1981. More details of this with Dowra-2 info above. There are no official records of their activity when you search for them on the IPAS website but they are mentioned in an official report on petroleum exploration in Northern Ireland. I would guess this is because they didn’t drill a new well. Since March 2012 the chemicals they used here were stated in a question in the Dail, see above.
There was also a reference made to the re-entry and even fracturing in the Dail on 27/10/83 in a question by Dr. O’Hanlon to the Minister for Industry and Energy, Mr. E. Collins. He was being asked about steps he was taking to expedite the exploration for gas in Glangevlin, County Cavan and replied, An exclusive exploration licence, which covers a large area of the north west carboniferous basin, and includes the Glangevlin area, is in force; and under the terms of that licence the licensees are obliged to drill two exploration wells in addition to the significant amount of exploration work which they have already carried out. That work included re-entry of a well at Dowra using new fracturing techniques which increased the gas flow from that well considerably. As a follow-up they carried out two major seismic surveys over the area in order to delineate the best structures with a view to establishing optimum locations for the wells which are now due to be drilled. Discussions between my Department and the licensees, who are in the process of selecting the drilling locations for those wells, are now taking place. Once the chosen locations have been approved and other negotiations in regard to the licence have been concluded, the licensees may be expected to proceed with their drilling programme without delay. They would drill these two addition wells in 1984 (Drumkeeran-1 & MacNean-2, see above).
Today this is the site of a Cavan County Council yard for storing things like gravel, pipes and sand etc. The Dowra-2 well is also here (see above), still concealed under a small green truck container. Going by the background in the gas flare picture I would guess the well head must have been somewhere on the west side of this site. Again I was disappointed not to find a well head but today this side of the roughly 2 acre site has been mostly built upon. There is now an old block shed and to its left a brand new (in fact built since my last visit here 3 months ago in Nov 2011) possibly gravel/grit storage and loading area which will have to suffice as the image for what is here today. You can locate it using the same SteetView as Dowra-2.
If anyone has any other information or images on this subject please email me at rennicksstephen at eircom.net
The above image was recently (April 2015) discovered online. It is of the 1963 drilling rig at Dowra-1. The height is said to have been 143 feet. There is a set of pictures from the site available to view at this link.
Cutting into the Present
6 min38sec loop on HD video
One of the central fictions of Tamboran, the main gas exploration license holder in Ireland, which I would most take issue with is that they promise to return the land to how it was before they arrived. This has never been the case with even the relatively light industry which has been built in this region in the past. When you cut into the present the future leaks out.
Competing Fictions and Human Energy
A point that struck me early on in the project was that everyday we encounter opposing fictions and narratives of what is to come and false and disputed realities once we get there; be it from politician’s, advertisers or our own friends and family. As these different positions play out and compete with one another, through elections, referendums and personal decisions we may take, society changes and evolves. The issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas in Ireland is no different. From the very start those that were concerned about it had very polarized views of what the future would be if it was allowed to go ahead. The companies that want to do it spin a fiction of a bright, prosperous and accident free future with jobs for local people from an assured national energy supply. There may be some truths in this but they come at an unknown risk and this is the vacuum which forces the protesters to create their own fictions which undoubtedly contain some truths as well. I also understand we need to take a stand and choose a side as well at times, which is what we had to do in this case as a group and as individuals.
One of my other observations while working on the group project is that I met so many ordinary people who had no previous background in things like chemistry, geology and energy that now had a working and confidant knowledge of things like the chemicals used in the fracking process, the geology of the region and global energy economics. Now that they and I were being pushed into a corner we were all discovering abilities and talents we never knew we had. While it’s a shame we often evolve only when we have to I feel that the artist and activist Joseph Beuys would have seen this as a form of creative energy which he and Heinrich Boll talked about in their manifesto for a Free University. This was their call for a new education system where creativity would be encouraged and pointed in the many directions of each individuals various talents and abilities. They hoped this would lead to a new society where everyone would consider themselves as artists and act artfully in their everyday lives. Beuys even talked of creativity as national income. It strikes me that this is a self-generated and highly sustainable form of energy available inside all of us that has always been there and it is ironic that as our health and quality of life is put at risk by fracking it is just this energy which is also under threat (from the extraction of an opposing and unsustainable form of energy that was created in the past). This human energy is intangible to some degree but real nonetheless and possible at times to read from a face as well as actions. Perhaps our portrait campaign inadvertently even captured this?
Taking all of this much further; as a river follows its own course, so too can the human being. If left unhindered, dammed or diverted we can also flow and surge to an unlimited power until we too become one with the natural balance of the Earth. Each individual has just such a stream of natural talent, ability and interest inside of them which is only seldom encouraged or allowed to develop over the duration of their lifetime. Far too soon and too often these currents become diverted from becoming the torrents of energy they could be. Surely now is the time to be finding ways of tapping into this unlimited energy supply to continue our infinite journey into the future.