It was only a matter of time before any protest movement which had a Sinn Fein presence turned to violence and sectarianism.
That is what has happened with the anti-fracking 21st century Luddite movement in Fermanagh this week. The petrol bombs thrown at Tamboran workers and sectarian abuse directed at them is just typical of what we have grown to expect from Sinn Fein, who seem to be at the centre of the opposition to a development which could bring an economic bonanza to Fermanagh and the Northern Ireland economy as a whole.
It is typical of the contrariness of some people in Northern Ireland and the economic destructiveness of our green zealots that at a time when we are facing energy insecurity, record levels of fuel poverty, loss of competitiveness because of energy costs and a shortage of manufacturing jobs, that protests are mounted against exploiting a local energy source which could help deal with all these issues.
Fossil fuels are essential to the working of a modern economy. We use oil, petrol, gas and coal every day to heat our homes, drive our cars, light our houses and operate our businesses, and the Fermanagh greens even use fossil fuels to manufacture their petrol bombs!
The pipedream of producing our energy needs from the wind is a green fairytale, or to be more accurate given the cost of such energy and the destructiveness of thousands of 320ft windmills across our beautiful countryside, more like a green nightmare. So we need fossil fuel and currently we import most of it from unstable parts of the world, be it the Middle East or Russia. It is madness to continue to rely on these sources if we have hundreds of years of reserves under our own country.
The environmentalists argue that drilling for the gas and oil trapped in shale up to 3,000 ft underground will pollute ground water, release radioactive or other hazardous substances, increase noise and air pollution, industrialise the countryside and destroy tourism and farming. None of these claims have any substance and ignore the fact that since the 1940s this technique has been used in 1.25million wells across the world without these cataclysmic outcomes. Those who are concerned about the impact on tourism in Fermanagh have no cause for concern. Alberta in Canada has 500,000 wells and yet sustains a thriving tourist industry.
Let us be clear how this method of gas and oil extraction works. A hole the size of a pizza is drilled to a depth of between 1,500 to 3,000 ft. The wells are cased in cement and steel pipe to ensure that the extracted gas cannot leak into groundwater. Once the well reaches the depth of the gas-bearing rock a series of horizontal drillings are made and then water and sand are pumped along them at 2,000 PSI, the same pressure as a typical household pressure washer. This opens up the fissures in the rock, and the sand keeps them open. The water is then pumped out and stored for reuse or else taken away and the gas contained in the rock then flows to the surface. The only evidence of the work is a drilling rig which may be in place for a year depending on the depth of the shale rock and afterwards a structure the size of a barn containing a compressor and a couple of well heads.
The irony is that gas wells 3,000 ft underground will be less intrusive on the landscape than the 300 ft plus wind turbines which are invading our landscape like triffids and yet are loved by the environmentalists who are going apoplectic about these few wells in Fermanagh.
The direct benefits of shale gas projects are enormous. Investment will be measured in billions of pounds. The industry is labour intensive and has huge employment potential for local people at technician level who can aquire skills with good training. It is estimated that across the UK a direct 74,000 jobs will be created but the big gains will come in the spin-off industries which will use the gas as either fuel or feedstock – these include fertilisers, aluminium, petrochemicals, new age plastics and rubbers and pharmaceuticals. This could help revive manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland.
The additional revenues which PWC estimate at £80 billion will enhance our tax income and improve our fiscal balance and there is no reason why we should not negotiate for some of the additional tax to stay in Northern Ireland to pay for public investment in local services.
The gains are too great to allow the economy to be held back by the scaremongering propaganda and violent protests of the 21st century Luddites who might think it quaint to put us all back into thatched cottages with candles for lights and peat fires for cooking and horses and carts for transport.
Of course they don’t put it like that but the fact is we either move our economy on by embracing modern methods of energy production or we will continue to stagnate and get left behind economically, which means no new jobs for young people leaving school, more costly fuel eating up greater proportions of our income, and fuel dependence on the mad mullahs of the Middle East or the demonic dictator in the Kremlin.
That is what is at stake and it is why we need to encourage those who want to explore for gas in Fermanagh or elsewhere while at the same time making sure that we have in place regulations which ensure the work is done safely.
I am on the side of those who want to extract oil and gas from the ground to benefit our economy not those who want to put it in bottles and use it as burning bombs to maim.