Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Let's keep an open mind on gas claims

Cheaper gas, secure supplies for 50 years, little environmental impact.

Those are the pledges of Richard Moorman the CEO of the Australian firm which wants to begin the controversial drilling for the fuel in Fermanagh. Critics will argue that of course he would make those claims to get approval for the operation. After all he is hardly likely to undersell his pitch and he has tapped into local concerns about ever rising fuel costs and the lack of natural resources leaving us heavily dependent on Middle East oil or Russian gas.

But Mr Moorman makes other important points. He wants to invest £6bn in the project and employ up to 3,000 people in an industry which traditionally is well paid. Those are considerations which should not be dismissed out of hand, especially in these recessionary times. And he promises the operation could be up and running within a few years and producing enough gas to meet the total demand from the province by 2020.

This is one time when the glacial pace of Northern Ireland's planning process may be a boon, rather than a hindrance. Concerns over the environmental impact of fracking - itself a hideous word - have been voiced in other parts of the world and deserve to be explored. But what really needs to happen is that a proper, in-depth debate on this issue is held free from emotion and based on scientific evidence.

There should not be a kneejerk reaction based on a natural opposition to mining which many people still associate with spoil heaps and destruction of the eco-system. This newspaper is prepared to keep an open mind on the proposal and to weigh up what evidence becomes available over time. The potential benefits are obvious if Mr Moorman's claims stand up and cheaper, sustainable supplies of gas could help attract inward investment of companies which consume large amounts of power. He has made a good case but he knows there are still many people who remain to be convinced.

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