Assembly backs call for ‘fracking’ moratorium

ENTERPRISE Minister Arlene Foster has said no licences for the controversial process of shale gas extraction - known as fracking - have been granted in Northern Ireland.

The minister was speaking yesterday, when an Assembly motion calling for a moratorium on onshore and offshore fracking exploration was passed by 49 votes to 30.

In her statement, Mrs Foster acknowledged the growing level of public concern with fracking, and said it was “time to set the record straight”.

“So at the outset let me make one or two things abundantly clear. No licence for hydraulic fracking in Northern Ireland has been issued. Indeed, nobody in Northern Ireland has a licence to extract oil or gas by any method,” she said.

Licences have been given to four companies in three counties of Northern Ireland which permit them to explore for oil and gas.

Mrs Foster said that should any of the explorations prove fruitful, the necessary applications for extractions will be subject to the full rigour of the planning system.

“So we can hardly impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing because no permit has yet been issued.

“Nor is any application expected for 12 to 18 months,” she added.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood echoed the reassurances given by Mrs Foster.

“People in rural areas have a right to be protected from any industrial process that may pose a threat to their wellbeing and their environment.

“That is a principle I intend to uphold as an Executive Minister. That is why I have fully advised officials in DOE and NIEA that all necessary environmental assessments will be fulfilled on the issue of fracking,” said Mr Attwood.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, who tabled the successful motion in Stormont, said: “It sends a clear message to the Executive that we need to put the brakes on fracking in areas like Fermanagh until more research into its safety is carried out”.

He added: “A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into the campaign against fracking and I want to pay credit to all those people who travelled to Stormont today from Fermanagh and beyond to highlight this issue.”

UUP leader Tom Elliott said he was disappointed that his party’s amendment to the motion had not been accepted.

“I believe it would be prudent to explore the extent of this resource,” said Mr Elliott.

“The UUP has called for a detailed environmental impact assessment that would confirm whether or not there would be any environmental damage before we permit hydraulic fracturing to take place.

“This is a balanced approach which I fully support,” added the MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.