Belfast Telegraph

Fracking for Stormont minister to decide, say officials after England halts controversial practice

Placards placed by protesters on the gates of the former quarry in Belcoo where Tamboran Resources had been proposing to drill an exploratory borehole
Placards placed by protesters on the gates of the former quarry in Belcoo where Tamboran Resources had been proposing to drill an exploratory borehole
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A Stormont department has said exploration for oil and gas by the controversial practice of fracking will be for a future Executive minister to decide on after the UK government halted the practice in England.

The government took the decision to impose a moratorium on fracking "until technology improves"  after a new scientific study warned it was not possible to rule out "unacceptable" consequences for those living near sites.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the pause was an "election stunt" and that Labour would ban fracking permanently.

The Department for Economy in Northern Ireland launched a consultation in May on Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd's application for a licence to test a large area in the south west of Co Fermanagh for natural gas.

Peaceful fracking protesters at Belcoo quarry last week
Peaceful fracking protesters at Belcoo quarry last week

The department is examining more than 3,000 responses to that consultation.

The firm 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.

When asked whether Northern Ireland would be following suit to halt fracking, a Department for Economy spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: “Exploration for oil and gas is a devolved matter.

“The Consultation for PLA2/16 (Co Fermanagh) closed on 31 July 2019. The Department is presently analysing the 3,131 responses received and will provide a future Minister with recommendations on the Petroleum Licence application for consideration."

Co Fermangh councillor Donal O'Cofaigh, who opposes fracking, said there is "huge opposition" to the controversial practice in Fermanagh and that he is seeking a complete ban on fracking here.

"It is not an industry that we need. It is bad enough when it is in the middle of a desert area in the United States where there is no population, but we are in an area where there is communities in every corner," he said.

"Fracking is bad anywhere but this is just self evidently wrong. It would be hugely opposed in Fermanagh if it was to proceed."

He added: "If Tamboran were to succeed they would face massive protests. There was huge mobilisation the last time they came and that was before people really knew as much as we do now. It is a toxic industry, it is hugely divisive and we don't want it."

A spokesman for Tamboran Resource said the application is for a licence to evaluate the natural gas in the shale and sandstone rocks in Co Fermanagh. If the firm wanted to proceed with extracting natural gas it would have to go through the full planning process before beginning any work. 

Karl Prenderville, chief executive of Tamboran Resources, has previously said the natural gas in Fermanagh could be worth £20 billion and provide Northern Ireland with a "secure, cleaner and lower-carbon supply of natural gas for potentially upwards of fifty years".

“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 added.

Protesters at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in Fermanagh
Protesters at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in Fermanagh

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