North's environmental institute calls for impact assessments on fracking


FULL PUBLIC consultation on “fracking” shale gas is needed so the planning process can “move forward in an open and transparent way”, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee has been briefed by the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network on shale gas exploration. Further meetings with prospective developer Tamboran Resources are expected in the coming weeks.

The institute said there was a need for a wider public debate as the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock, commonly known as fracking, has generally relied on “a solution of potentially toxic chemicals” to break up rock and release the gas.

Institute director Gary McFarlane said a cautious approach must be adopted and, while it was not “anti-fracking”, there was “insufficient current evidence to confirm that all the potential risks can be suitably reduced or managed within acceptable levels”.

While it was not yet clear what the downsides of fracking might be, he warned that the chemicals used “could contaminate freshwater drinking supplies” and that there were “well-documented concerns that drilling and extraction have led to minor earthquakes”.

Mr McFarlane called for detailed environmental and health impact assessments, with a full public consultation, before any licences for commercial exploitation were considered.

“We need to learn lessons from existing experiences and design systems that are safe,” he said.

The North’s Minister of the Environment Alex Attwood has stressed that there would be no headlong rush into fracking, due to the need to get the right balance between a potential major economic boost and possible environmental damage from the process.

Mr McFarlane said this was the right approach.

“While there has been speculation that fracking could provide enough natural gas for Northern Ireland for 50 years,” he added, “this must be tempered with a need to ensure that all environmental and planning requirements are complied with.”