MINISTER ARLENE Foster has stood by her claim that fracking is a potential game changer for Fermanagh, however, said that ‘if it can’t be done in an environmentally safe way, then it shouldn’t be done’.
The Minister for enterprise, trade and investment, speaking in her DUP constituency office in Enniskillen this week, clarified her position on the controversial shale gas extraction method, shortly after it has been announced that an extension had been granted to company Tamboran to allow them an additional six months to apply to dig a borehole to collect rock samples.
“There’s all of this hysteria that fracking is going to take place, it’s just to drill a hole to see what’s there in terms of shale gas. They can apply to drill a hole to see what shale gas is there,” Minister Foster explained.
Several months ago, Minister Foster described fracking as a potential game changer for the county, and when quizzed on this statement, her view had not changed.
“It is, if, and here’s the if, here’s the warning that goes along with that: If it’s done in a way that is, first of all, they have to decide if they can commercially take the gas out of the ground in a way that is environmentally suitable for the area, and under the regulations that will be put on it under both my department and the department of environment.”
She also spoke of a fear among those in favour of exploring the possibility of fracking, in speaking out.
“I’ve had a lot of people saying to me if it can be done in a way that’s safe, then they would welcome it, because it would bring jobs to Fermanagh, they talk about energy, security of supply, and these are people that don’t necessarily speak out, because to be quite honest, the anti-fracking group can be quite aggressive at times.
And Minister Foster was adamant that she was right to take an open-minded position on fracking.
“You can’t be a politician and sit on the fence and not take decisions, you have to take decisions, that’s what you’re put there to do. And people who don’t take decisions are poor politicians.
“There are always going to be people who disagree with you on decisions that you take. What you have to do is make sure you follow the correct procedures, that you take the decisions for the greater good of people in Northern Ireland.
“I have been painted in all sorts of ways since this discussion started, from somebody who wants to drill at all costs – why would I want to do that? But apparently that’s the way some people have seen me – but my job is to look at the resources, whether it’s gold in County Tyrone, or shale gas in different areas of Northern Ireland. We grant the licenses for them to extract or prospect those minerals.
“If I was the DETI minister, I wouldn’t have that responsibility, but I take that responsibility very seriously and I think people will characterise me as they seek to do, but I’m very clear in my own mind: If it can’t be done in an environmentally safe way, then it shouldn’t be done.”
She also said that she believes the final decision should be taken by the Northern Ireland Executive.
“Because it is a novel and controversial issue, my view is that this will be a decision taken by the whole executive, it’ll not just be for Arlene Foster, it’ll not just be for Mark Durkan, it’ll be for the whole Executive.
“At the moment it’s just steps along the way, when it comes to the decision on whether we believe there should be hydraulic fracturing, it is a decision in my view, for the whole executive.”
DETI explains deadline extension for Tamboran
Tamboran have been given an initial three year ‘drill or drop’ license to apply to drill a scientific borehole and collect rock core – which ended on March 31. The extension has been granted for six months, with DETI commenting that Tamboran is ‘expected to apply to drill a stratigraphic test borehole within this extension period’.
DETI said that for ‘various technical and operational reasons the company has been unable to progress the work programme to the extent required to enable them to make a final decision on whether or not to drill an exploration well’.
A DETI spokesman added: “The company has invested significantly in its exploration programme to date and it is in the best economic interests of Fermanagh and Northern Ireland to facilitate its continuance.”
A spokesman from Tamboran Resources Pty Ltd said: “Tamboran Resources Pty Ltd requested and received a six month extension to the first part of the exploration licence granted by the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment in 2011. The company is committed to the drilling of a scientific borehole to obtain rock core as part of its obligation to the government of Northern Ireland.”