Split over fracking grows: New environment minister resists pleas of PM and DUP
Published 14/08/2013 | 01:30
Stormont ministers are on a collision course over fracking after David Cameron urged the entire UK to get behind it.
The Executive's newest ministers have clashed over the process which the Prime Minister insists is safe if properly regulated.
DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the province is too vulnerable to uncertainty over energy supplies for potential benefits of fracking to be ruled out.
But Environment Minister Mark H Durkan yesterday insisted that agreeing to any fracking at present would be "reckless and irresponsible" – and no fracking will take place without his say-so.
His comments came after Mr Hamilton's predecessor, Sammy Wilson, said that the SDLP's Mr Durkan "shares the same short-sighted, green-tinted, views of his predecessor", Alex Attwood.
East Antrim MP Mr Wilson said: "It is important that we do not introduce planning restrictions which prevent energy firms from looking at Northern Ireland as a potential source of shale gas."
Mr Durkan said he had asked officials for the "best possible knowledge" on the issue.
He said: "At present there is no planning application for fracking in Northern Ireland. If and when any application comes in, it will be for me to decide, not David Cameron. I am not going to make any decision until all the facts and scientific evidence are established. To do otherwise would be reckless and irresponsible.
"Do we need to extract shale gas? Can it be done safely? Would it be done responsibly? These are the responsible questions.
"All facts are not in. The scientific evidence is far from being established. No fracking for Fermanagh, no fracking for Northern Ireland, as things stand."
He said establishing the best knowledge would involve reviewing existing research, analysing new studies, studying case studies from other parts of the world and liaising with other environment agencies in Britain and Ireland.
Mr Hamilton emphasised environmental concerns would have to be dealt with – but cautioned against a "knee-jerk reaction" in either direction for or against the controversial process.
He also added: "If you look at America, which is moving towards independence in terms of energy by the end of the decade, businesses there are experiencing a tremendous boost and they are looking at years and years of cheap energy as a result."
Just over 18 months ago the Assembly backed a moratorium on fracking.
Energy firm Tamboran had plans to begin extracting shale gas in Fermanagh from next year.
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The Assembly called for a moratorium on fracking pending scientific analysis. Fracking, short for 'hydraulic fracturing', involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release stored gas. There are fears it can cause earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage.