Anti-fracking campaigner says communities needs protection following Department’s research request

A leading anti-fracking campaigner has called the Department for the Economy’s research into the impacts of oil and gas production as a last “hurrah” for the industry. 

Tom White has also said that the communities of Fermanagh still need protection against fracking. The Department is seeking to procure research into the economic, societal and environmental impacts of future onshore petroleum exploration and production, including Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG), in Northern Ireland, including fracking.

“Many in Fermanagh thought the spectre of ‘fracking’ had long since disappeared but it seems to me that we’re preparing the way for one last ‘hurrah’ for this industry,” said Tom White of Belcoo Frack Free.

“The last act of Minister Hazard when leaving his infrastructure portfolio when the Assembly collapsed in 2016 was not to bring forward the bill stopping permitted development for the drilling of exploratory wells by the Oil and Gas industry, but rather to approve the retrospective planning on the quarry in Belcoo where Tamboran tried to drill in 2014.

“In May of 2019, we learned after the council elections, following an agreement between Tamboran and the Department for the Economy on timing, that a new petroleum licence application which had been lying in the Department since 2016 was to undergo a public consultation.”

This application was submitted and accepted while Tamboran still had three cases filed against Government Departments where figures of £1billion damages had been mentioned in courts.

“We as a community in order to protect ourselves from this industry were successful in getting an effective ban on fracking implemented in the draft Local Development Plan, by inclusion of Public Health as a consideration with regards to ‘fracking’.”

Mr. White however voiced concern about the latest draft of the consultation which shows the removal of public health protection and has urged people to contact their local councillor to raise the issue.

He also claimed how the Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots, rowed back on promises such as an independent Environmental Regulator since Stormont returned for business.

“The Minister for the Economy said that ‘fracking’ was a cross cutting issue and would be brought to the full executive, but recent legislation has seen more powers granted to Ministers.

“We now see the Minister for the Economy saying that they must run a study on Petroleum Licensing with it seems a particular emphasis on fracking.

“It is noticeable that health does not figure as a major consideration as the Department is seeking to procure research into the economic, societal and environmental impacts of future onshore petroleum exploration and production, including Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG), in Northern Ireland.

“We must ask why there appears to be removal of Public Health protections locally, allied with ongoing research at Stormont level which does not even address the issue of Health and the motivations behind this, because one thing is for sure, it is not what the communities in Fermanagh want.”

Mr. White concluded by saying the communities in Fermanagh need the protection of having Public Health reinserted in the Local Development Plan, which is out for consultation until September 11.