Fracking ban in Republic ‘null and void’ if there is drilling in Fermanagh

Exploration company Tamboran claims Fermanagh’s natural gas resources could be worth £20bn over 25 years

Fracking extracts natural gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas. Photograph: Getty Images

Fracking extracts natural gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A fracking ban in the Republic introduced two years ago will effectively be rendered “null and void” if Northern Ireland authorities grant permission for drilling in Co Fermanagh, campaigners claim.

“It might as well be happening in Sligo and Leitrim, ” according to Jamie Murphy of the Love Leitrim campaign group. “Rossinver in Leitrim is a few minutes away from Garrison in Fermanagh.”

In September 2016, Tamboran Resources UK applied to Northern Ireland’s department of the economy’s minerals and petroleum branch for permission to begin fracking across 608sq km in southwest Fermanagh.

Love Leitrim, Leitrim County Council and hundreds of other campaigners in the Republic have made submissions opposing the licence ahead of the deadline for submissions on Friday.

In its submission Leitrim County Council voiced “fundamental opposition” to the plan, saying it will have “lasting adverse consequences” for the county’s environment and the health of people living there.

Shale gas extraction “risks contaminating ground water”, the local authority said.

Tamboran’s proposed drilling site is close to both Lough Macnean and Lough Melvin.

In its submission Love Leitrim said Tamboran’s application should not even be considered by the North’s department of the economy because the application claimed to cover exploratory drilling only but would in fact clear the way for full-scale production.

Mr Murphy said the fact the North remained without a functioning Stormont assembly and Northern executive made matters more difficult “because we are dealing with faceless civil servants”.

Energy bills

Tamboran claims that Fermanagh’s natural gas resources could be worth £20 billion over 25 years, and could create “up to 3, 000 direct and indirect jobs” in the county.

Natural gas could be “a game changer” for Northern Ireland economically and environmentally, said Tamboran’s chief executive Karl Prenderville, claiming that such stocks would reduce the North’s energy bills and cut carbon emissions.

He said drilling in the first five years would only be for exploration to prove that natural gas existed in the quantities believed and that extraction was economically viable and could be done safely.

The process would start with the collection of rock samples to carry out tests on the composition of the rock to assess the volume of gas present.

Mr Prenderville said the company would have to submit a planning application and environmental impact assessment before “test fracturing” to assess the viability of the project.

However, campaigners argue that a large volume of evidence exists to prove that fracking is not safe, pollutes the air and water sources, releases methane and damages agriculture and tourism.

Leitrim Fianna Fáil county councillor Mary Bohan said such negative effects would not recognise any borders. “It will render our ban null and void.”

Chemicals

Fracking extracts natural gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas. It has dramatically increased fossil fuel production in the US.

A five-year study published by Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 found fracking has the potential to damage both the environment and human health.

Tamboran was awarded a licence to drill for gas in Belcoo by the North’s department of enterprise, trade and investment in 2011, which led to major local protests.

In 2014, Northern Ireland’s then environment minister Mark Durkan rejected an application by Tamboran to do deep-bore test drilling in Belcoo. The SDLP minister said his decision was prompted by the need “to ensure that the environment is protected at all times, and that full consideration is give to any likely significant environmental impacts”.