Residents highlight fracking concerns to Environment Minister

Fracking meeting with Mark H Durkan

John Sheridan, pictured with SDLP councillor Brendan Gallagher and Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

THE ENVIRONMENT Minister has assured Belcoo residents that fracking will not “happen on my watch” if exploratory borehole drilling poses any threat to public health and the environment.

Mark H Durkan made the comments during a meeting with a number of representatives from Fermanagh anti-fracking groups, residents and local political figures at Enniskillen Town Hall.


Concern has been mounting in recent weeks after fracking company Tamboran announced plans to begin test-drilling at a site in Belcoo.

Mr Durkan met with residents following a public outcry over the issue.

Speaking to the Fermanagh Herald after the private meeting, the Environment Minister explained that his department is awaiting information from Tamboran and will then take 21 days to assess whether it meets DOE development standards.

“I have said previously and I will reiterate it today, this will be subject to full and very rigorous scrutiny,” he added.

“We need to take into consideration the concerns residents have raised about the potentials of drilling and the current planning permission and go and find out about these things as they could potentially prove crucial in the assessment of this application.

“The concerns they have are very real and very genuine and I think it’s very important we address those.

“I have reassured them that there is no application in for fracking and that any future applications will be considered in a very robust manner.


“I have been consistently clear that no fracking will happen on my watch unless there is very strong scientific evidence that it is safe both for public health and the environment. That evidence simply does not exist at this time.”

Tom White, a Belcoo resident and spokesman for Belcoo Frack Free – a newly formed anti-fracking group – issued a stark warning to the minister over the impact of Tamboran’s plans.

Describing their current position as operating from a “vacuum of knowledge”, Mr White said the deepening crisis is felt across Fermanagh.

“Mr Durkan has got a very difficult decision in front of him but he needs to make sure that he views this as a decision on the whole process not just on one bore hole,” he added.

“This is shale gas exploration and this is the start of shale gas in Ireland and from my perspective he needs to take cognisance of the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly did vote for a moratorium on shale gas exploration development and extraction and take cognisance that is the will of the people as expressed through the political representatives.

“Locally people are against shale gas exploration of any sort. We don’t know enough yet about what Tamboran’s plans are and we have asked the minister to ensure that anything that can be given to the public is done so at the earliest opportunity because we are operating in a vacuum of knowledge here.

“From my perspective I can’t see how he can go ahead and offer them permitted development rights and full planning permission within NIEA.”

Sharon McGrath who lives close to the Belcoo quarry site which is owned by concrete firm Acheson and Glover, described the feeling in the area saying that residents opposed to Tamboran’s plans are stressed and worried.

She continued: “Residents are very fearful and feel very powerless over what’s going to happen.

“Big corporations have all the backing but who is supporting the village of Belcoo and surrounding areas?

“This is a cross community, cross border issue and what happens in Belcoo will determine what happens across the country.

“There needs to be immediate monitoring of the site and full health and environmental impact assessments carried out before any drilling starts.”

Some of the main concerns addressed at the meeting included the environmental impact assessment, future damage to pubic health and DOE planning applications.

Andrew Gallagher an environmental co-ordinator with anti-fracking group Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network said the minister was very responsive to their concerns.

“Every stone needs unturned, we can’t leave anything to chance,” he added.

“The DOE has stated that planning applications do fall within their department and are monitoring this situation very closely.

“At this stage it’s just fact-finding, it’s quite positive about the thing. It’s been very positive and it’s good to see the DOE are looking at this closely.”

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