Belfast Telegraph

As gas revolution heats up, knowledge is power

When it comes to the global energy market there has been few steadier hands over the years than Saudi Arabia.

It's the largest exporter of crude oil in the world and only lost its top spot in the league of countries with the biggest oil reserves to Venezula in 2011.

As such it has a fair bit of clout in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries which in the past has been able to regulate how much crude oil is produced around the world and therefore how much you and I end up paying to fill up the car with fuel.

So when one of the region's biggest billionaire investors – and there are a few – stands up and says he's worried that US shale gas is a threat to the Saudi Arabia's then you know that using the term "revolution" to described the energy produced from fracking isn't over egging the pudding.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal called on the Saudi government to help the region's economy diversify away from its reliance on oil income.

Such a statement highlights the threat of shale gas for a nation which has oil running through its veins and raised eyebrows will be the more moderate comebacks.

No doubt he has been getting the same reaction from oil drillers there after such a statement as he would have telling the good people of Bourneville 50 years ago that they should be expanding their product range away from dark chocolate.

Whether he's right or not remains to be seen but his statement certainly shines the light back on our own debate around fracking.

The US seems to be proving that shale gas can provide a huge economic boost, one which Northern Ireland could badly do with but one which comes with a lot of unknowns.

Reports vary on the environmental impact of fracking and because of that it's imperative that time is taken to research and understand any adverse side effects that may accompany the technology.

While the economic benefits may be quickly realised, the work to repair any environmental damage that may result from the process could take many hundreds of years.

There have been calls to write-off fracking in Northern Ireland right away but to do so would be churlish and a hugely short-sighted move.

We need to explore the technology to find out if shale has has a place in Northern Ireland and if it does then we need to extract it responsibly.

Balancing economic and environmental concerns is not an easy business but that's why we elect our minsters and it's up to them to explore all avenues available to them.

While Saudi Arabia is searching for ways to diversify its economy, we have a resource staring us in the face that we're unsure what to do with.

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