Minister in plea to give fracking a fair hearing
Stormont's newest minister has given his broad backing to moves to explore the potential for more fracking in Northern Ireland.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the province remains too vulnerable to uncertainty over its energy supply for the benefits of fracking to be ruled out.
"We are at the end of every pipeline in the world," added the DUP man, who replaced Sammy Wilson in the post a fortnight ago.
He also emphasised environmental concerns would have to be dealt with – but cautioned against "knee-jerk reactions".
The Assembly has called for a moratorium on fracking pending further scientific analysis, but the exploration company Tamboran plans to begin extracting shale gas in Fermanagh next year.
Mr Wilson, meanwhile, also entered the debate yesterday after Prime Minister David Cameron said fracking could lead to lower UK gas prices and will not have a serious environmental impact.
The ex-minister said on Facebook that "it is important we do not introduce planning restrictions which prevent energy firms from looking at Northern Ireland as a potential source of shale gas".
"It will be the ultimate irony for an area with the highest energy prices in the UK to turn its back on the opportunities to obtain cheaper gas and create thousands of jobs because of the views of an anti-development, anti-growth group of green romantics who think that we can generate our energy by ruining the countryside with 300ft wind turbines."
Mr Hamilton said the biggest concern of large firms in the province was energy costs.
"We are at the end of every pipeline in the world and security of supply isn't there," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"So, there is an attraction with what is available in terms of shale gas.
"If you look at America, which is moving towards independence in terms of energy by the end of the decade, businesses there are experiencing a tremendous boost and they are looking at years and years of cheap energy as a result," he said.
"What we need is not to have a knee-jerk reaction in either direction, not rule it in but equally not rule it out, and make sure all concerns about the impact on the environment are dealt with."
STORY SO FAR
The Prime Minister has called on the whole of the country to "get behind fracking" – despite concerns it can cause small earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, David Cameron said the process is safe if properly regulated. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to release stored gas.