Serious environmental concerns have been raised after a swathe of land across the north west was identified as a potentially rich site for the controversial technique of ‘fracking’ for fuel.
The Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) yesterday moved to allay fears after a Canadian-based energy firm completed an extensive survey in a bid to identify untapped underground oil and gas supplies.
The department has not received any applications to carry out fracking but could not rule out a future move by the company Rathlin Energy Limited.
The possibility of fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — was first mooted after an exploration of parts of Londonderry and Antrim.
Rathlin Energy Limited — which holds the petroleum licence for a 870sq km area of land — has explored in the Limavady, Coleraine, Moyle and Ballymoney areas.
Its licence encompasses a triangular area bounded by Garvagh, Magilligan and Ballycastle and extends to the north coast between the latter two.
Rathlin Energy confirmed that the results of the survey are now being studied.
“The gravity and magnetic data recorded from this airborne survey is now being processed into a form that could help to identify naturally occurring mineral deposits,” a statement said.
“The data gathered may help to enhance the understanding of natural resources regionally and inform commercial investment plans across the north west of Northern Ireland.”
Fracking is a controversial process which involves drilling down and creating tiny explosions to crack hard shale rocks to release the gas inside.
Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows gas to flow out.
The process has caused controversy in America and England, being blamed for polluting the drinking supply in the US and causing two small earthquakes near Blackpool.
Former Limavady mayor, Sinn Fein councillor Brenda Chivers, is among those strongly opposed to any use of fracking.
She is concerned about the potential damage that fracking could have on fish stocks and fisheries, not just in Limavady but also in Fermanagh and North Antrim which have also been identified as potential sites.
“It is now crucial that these warnings are heeded before it is too late and the irreparable damage is done.”
A DETI spokeswoman confirmed that potential fracking has not been ruled out.