Durkan stands firm as fracking backers respond

Protestor JP Fay pictured at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in County Fermanagh
Protestor JP Fay pictured at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in County Fermanagh

The environment minister has defended his decision to block an exploratory fracking scheme, as criticism from unionists continued to mount.

Mark H Durkan had refused permission for a borehole to be drilled at Cleggan Quarry in Belcoo on Monday, sparking jubilation from opponents of the controversial practice, who held a gathering by the proposed Fermanagh site that night.

Yesterday he stuck firmly by his decision whilst UKIP, the NI Conservatives and long-time DUP fracking proponent Sammy Wilson lined up to denounce the move.

Mr Wilson told the BBC: “In taking the stance that he has, he’s going to deny Northern Ireland the potential to have hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment in our own indigenous fuel.”

He added refusing permission for fracking amounted to scuppering “hundreds, if not thousands” of direct jobs.

UKIP’s David McNarry, meanwhile, questioned whether the minister was making his decision for party political reasons.

He said: “Of course one explanation could be that a local energy supply would make Irish nationalists and republicans eat their words when ridiculing Northern Ireland’s economic stability...

“A Northern Ireland benefiting from the extensive economic opportunities shale gas production offers would wipe the smile of the faces of those who are committed to undermine the existence of Northern Ireland.”

The NI Conservatives’ economy spokesman Johnny Andrews said the debate around fracking had become “too emotional”, and that campaigners were shunning the advice of scientists.

Mr Durkan was unyielding in his defence of his decision.

He said: “I have consistently said that we can only approve any fracking proposal if it can be shown that it meets tight environmental standards. There will have to be clear evidence that it is safe for people and the environment. That evidence simply does not exist at the moment...

“The bottom line is that I would rather be safe than sorry – I would rather have to take the flack now in explaining my decision than be apologising in a year’s time.”

Fracking – short for hydralic fracturing – involves cracking underground rock to extract trapped gas.