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Fracking: DUP clash as debate gets heated

The DUP'S Sammy Wilson has clashed with an Executive minister from his own party over the controversial fracking debate.

The former Finance Minister said he was disappointed there had not been any cross-departmental policy on the exploration of the potential of shale gas.

But junior minister Jonathan Bell insisted ongoing liaison between officials in the Departments of the Environment and Trade and Industry amounted to cross-departmental co-operation.

Yet, he confirmed, the issue has not been directly discussed between Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and Trade and Industry chief Arlene Foster.

Mr Wilson said: "Given the energy problems that we face in Northern Ireland, I am disappointed the issue has not been addressed cross-departmentally."

The East Antrim MP said some Executive ministers opposed the exploitation of shale gas, "something that the 42% of consumers who experience fuel poverty and the businesses that are struggling with fuel bills will find bewildering".

And he asked Mr Bell for an assurance there would be "serious discussions of energy policy, investment policy, planning policy, environmental policy and mineral exploitation policy to ensure that we do not lose out on the opportunity that has transformed the American economy and that has the potential to transform the Northern Ireland economy."

Mr Bell replied: "When two departments work together, that is cross-departmental.

"It is important that we always follow the evidence and best practice.

"Ultimately, this will be a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, and I think that they will be judicious in looking at it."

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott asked if there were any agreements or even discussions about specific benefits such as rate reductions being available to communities where fracking would take place.

Mr Bell replied: "The Department of Finance and Personnel, if it is a direct question in relation to rates, is the best department to answer your specific question."

He said the shale gas regulators' forum, established in 2012, continues to keep under review the legislative and regulatory requirements needed to support possible development.

There has been no direct discussion as yet between the Environment Minister and the Enterprise Minister on the development of shale gas in Northern Ireland.

Further reading

 

Oscar-nominated Gasland: documentary about fracking in the US

Belfast Telegraph