There will be no fracking allowed in Co Fermanagh - or anywhere else in Northern Ireland - unless it can be proved safe beyond doubt, the Environment Minister has pledged.
Mark H Durkan set out his strong message on the controversial energy source as he prepared to meet residents in Co Fermanagh who are protesting against the prospect that fracking will go ahead in the county. The SDLP minister said any application to carry out fracking "will be considered in a very robust manner". "I am acutely aware that the fracking issue is causing great distress to local people in Fermanagh," he added. "I will be meeting with residents and elected representatives later in the week to hear their concerns at first-hand.
"I will reassure them that there is no application in for fracking and that any future applications will be considered in a very robust manner.
"I have been consistently clear that no fracking will happen on my watch unless there is strong scientific evidence that it is safe for public health and the environment.
"That evidence simply does not exist at this time," he said.
"If any aspect of the Tamboran exploratory borehole drilling is likely to have a significant impact on the environment, permission to proceed will not be given."
Anti-fracking activists have been staging a 24-hour presence at the quarry near Belcoo since last Monday, close to where Tamboran Resources intends to start drilling next month to begin the process of exploring for shale gas.
Tamboran Resources intends to drill an exploratory borehole and if the samples show commercially viable levels of gas, it plans to begin a process that could lead to fracking.
Fermanagh councillor Bernice Swift has demanded that the Executive be recalled from its summer recess to discuss and plan ways of dealing with the potential for fracking in Belcoo.
Ukip MLA David McNarry said we must be supportive of fracking or "we risk being left behind, and we can't afford that".
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out. It is hugely controversial because of concerns about causing small earth tremors and contaminating water supplies.