Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Inside...Fracking

One of the worst things about living or working in Northern Ireland is the fuel price.

It is not just that consumers are facing an 18% hike that will bear down with cruel force on the old, the poor and the vulnerable this winter. Let's hope it's a mild one.

Our chances of economic recovery are also being blighted. In May the CBI warned that "compared to our two nearest markets (in Great Britain and Ireland) prices are typically 20-25% higher in Northern Ireland" and warned that multinational companies would be put off coming here as a result. Our bread prices are already higher because of the high energy cost of baking.

Besides it would mean an immediate £188m investment in rural Fermanagh, providing relatively high paid jobs at a time when emigration is a problem.

Why then are we slithering so much about fracking?

Why the constant refrain, most recently from Mark Durkan the Environment Minister, about finding out the facts and playing safe, when many of the facts are known?

We know that in the US fracking cut gas prices by 50% of European levels and is a stimulating economic recovery.

We may not achieve those savings here but a reliable local supply of gas would be a big boon. It would supplement clean but expensive wind generation and help ease our dependence on imported hydrocarbons from the most vulnerable and unstable regions of the world.

Fracked gas is methane which, although it is a hydrocarbon, contributes much less to green house gas emissions than existing gas supplies or methods of electricity generation. Green house gas emission is 50% compared with oil-fired power stations. As for earthquakes, tremors reported in Blackpool were comparable to a lorry passing your home.

Fracked gas is unlikely to be exported until the home market, including the Republic, is satisfied. The costs of liquefaction are high, transportation abroad is expensive, and up to 20% of the energy is needed for transport. That makes selling locally into existing pipe lines the most attractive option.

Fears of long-term environmental damage can be addressed by forcing companies to post bonds for clear ups afterwards. This has happened in North America, including Alberta Canada. It is a standard ploy by regulators of any extractive industry.

What we should be talking about is how to best regulate gas production, not whether we need it or not.

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