POLITICIANS have voiced renewed concern over fracking in Northern Ireland after it emerged yesterday that the UK Government could give the go-ahead to the controversial gas extraction process.
A review of hydraulic fracturing, which uses high-pressure liquid pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas, found the process could be undertaken safely here if it was done to the highest standards and was properly regulated.
The report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering also said there needed to be robust monitoring of methane gas in groundwater, methane leaks and seismic activity before, during and after hydraulic fracturing.
Professor Robert Mair, who chaired the inquiry into fracking, said: “Strong regulation and robust monitoring systems must be put in place and best practice strictly enforced if the Government is to give the go-ahead to further exploration.”
Fracking for shale gas is widespread in the US, where it has been controversial because of claims cancer-causing compounds used in the process have polluted water supplies and that flammable methane gas itself can pollute drinking water.
The only scheme to explore for shale gas in the UK, near Blackpool in Lancashire, was put on hold after two small earthquakes caused by the fracking process.
Responding to the report, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said there would be no “headlong rush to fracking in Fermanagh”.
“Only when all the relevant planning and environmental issues and requirements have been fully interrogated, can a decision be made,” said the minister.
Mr Attwood (pictured) pointed out that no planning applications have been submitted.
“The report adds to the advice about fracking. But there is also a spread of research ongoing –- through the EU, through the EPA in Washington DC and through a Dublin project supported by the DoE in the North.
“I will clearly review today’s report but all the science on this controversial issue will have to be reviewed and assessed.”
On Thursday, the Australian-based energy firm that hopes to extract shale gas in Fermanagh by early 2014 said it was not opposed to a public inquiry when it appeared before the Stormont enterprise committee. Tamboran was granted a licence in April 2011 to explore the controversial method of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing.
Yesterday, Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said he remains opposed to the plans.
“The bottom line remains the same, this company wants to exploit Northern Ireland’s natural resources for profit,” Mr Agnew said.
“The only people set to really benefit from these plans will be Tamboran.
“I don’t believe any amount of so-called ‘compensation’ will convince local people to stand back and allow our beautiful environment to be decimated in this fashion. Once such a resource is lost, it’s gone for ever.”
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Phil Flanaghan, of Sinn Fein, said he also remained opposed to fracking, in response to the report by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
He said: “The destruction of the landscape and the complete industrialisation of rural Ireland will never be acceptable to those who wish to cherish and protect it.”