Company renews bid for licence to probe gas fracking in Northern Ireland
A company with designs on drilling for gas in Co Fermanagh has renewed a controversial bid to restart the process.
The Department for the Economy yesterday launched a fresh consultation on Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd's application for a licence to test a large area in the south west of the county for natural gas.
The process to recover the gas, known as fracking, remains controversial. It involves drilling deep into rock and injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to release the gas inside. The process has already been banned in the Republic, France and Germany. Those opposed to fracking say it can trigger earthquakes and threaten water supplies.
Australian firm Tamboran Resources was originally awarded a licence by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2011. But its efforts to drill a borehole at a quarry in Belcoo triggered protests and was eventually blocked by former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan. The licence was eventually terminated in 2014 by then DETI Minister Arlene Foster.
The company's Northern Ireland operation was subject to a management buyout in 2016. It is now headed by Karl Prenderville, who claims that fracking for gas in Fermanagh could be worth more than £20bn.
"If our estimations are confirmed, once demonstrating it can be done safely and receiving approval to proceed, this project has the potential to create thousands of jobs, locally, through a multi-billion pound investment over an anticipated 25-year period, providing long-term, secure and well-paid jobs," he said.
A licence would involve a two stage process beginning with test drilling and progressing to a test well, where fracking would be deployed.
DUP leader and Fermanagh MLA Arlene Foster said yesterday that planning policy agreed by the Executive in 2015 included a presumption against fracking unless there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts.
"Any evidence put forward in these areas must be considered on its merits by the experts within the planning system. It is right that such assessments are made by those qualified to do so," she said.
"There have been concerns raised around potential impact on local drinking water supplies as well as the impact on the landscape of Fermanagh. Given the huge importance of tourism to the economy of County Fermanagh these are obviously very important considerations."
Sinn Fein MLA Jemma Dolan said her party is completely opposed to fracking.
Donal O'Cofaigh of the Cross-Party Labour Alternative, who won a council seat in Enniskillen last week, expressed concern that without an Executive in place, the decision to progress the application could be taken by civil servants. He said: "The issue is really whether unelected officials could now make a decision that potentially would cut across the overwhelming opposition that exists in Fermanagh."