Council opposed to fracking but powerless to impose ban

THE Council has admitted that while it opposes fracking taking place in the county, it might be powerless to stop it.
Following the UK Tory government’s lifting of the fracking ban in England, a number of adverts have been placed in newspapers in England and also the North of Ireland have appeared in classified sections enquiring on the availability of mountain freehold land.
The advert requests for 90 acres or more of land – preferably limestone – at prices between £3000 to £4000 per acre.
Speculation has been fuelled surrounding this advert that the prospective purchasers are doing so on the behalf of potential fracking operators.
One such advert has requested land within the Belcoo and Letterbreen areas.
The Fermanagh Herald has used the email address enclosed in the advert to enquire as to why land in the county is being sought after and is fracking the end game should a successful purchase be made.
However, despite several requests, we have not heard back from that email address.
The Council insist that they have so far not received any applications for permission to begin fracking in Fermanagh.
A spokesman said: “Fermanagh and Omagh District has not received a planning application or request for a Pre-Application Discussion (PAD) in regard to potential fracking proposals in the Belcoo/Letterbreen area.
“Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has consistently confirmed its absolute opposition to the extraction of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) by the process known as hydraulic fracturing/fracking.”
The Council went on to state their own opposition to fracking was based on health and social issues.
The spokesman added: “This is based on the Council’s concerns relating to the potential social, including public health and human rights issues, environmental and economic considerations associated with UOG.
“The Council recently commissioned and agreed the findings of an independent study which set out the potential adverse social, environmental and economic impacts of unconventional hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the Fermanagh and Omagh District and its population.
“A copy of this report was provided to the Department for the Economy with a request that the Department introduce a ban on fracking in Northern Ireland.
“The Council’s Local Development Plan draft Plan Strategy also recognises that there is significant and growing concern in respect to the social, including public health and human rights, economic and environmental impacts that may be associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, also known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
“Given the potential adverse impacts on the environment and human health associated with this process, the Council’s position, in the absence of government evidence, is to adopt a presumption against the granting of planning permission for the extraction of unconventional hydrocarbon.”
However, there is the possibility that a potential fracking operator could successfully appeal to either the Department of Economy or the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs as the Council does not have the power to impose an outright ban.
The spokesman continued: “The Council does not have the statutory authority to introduce a ban on fracking in the district.”
In relation to the Council being bypassed, a spokesman for the Department of Economy said: “Exploration for oil and gas is a devolved matter and it will be up to an Northern Ireland Executive Committee to make decisions on any applications for a petroleum licence and determine policy on future petroleum licensing here. In the last mandate nobody in the Executive was advocating for fracking.
“Regarding the handling of a planning application for fracking, such an application could only be made by a company which has been awarded a petroleum licence.
A petroleum licence gives a company the rights to explore for and extract oil and gas in a certain area of land subject to all other planning and environmental permissions being in place. If you have any queries in relation to the handling of planning applications these should be referred to the relevant Department.”
A DAERA spokeswoman added: “Oil and gas exploration or extraction developments require planning permission. Fermanagh & Omagh District Council are the relevant planning authority for the Council area and would be the decision making body for any planning application submitted that included hydraulic fracturing. DAERA act as an expert consultee to the NI planning regime and within this role provide advice and guidance to the planning authorities.
“Should a planning authority reject such an application for planning permission, the applicant would have the option of appealing such a decision with the appellant body, which is the Planning Appeals Commission, not DAERA.”

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