December 2011: the Green Party brought forward a motion to the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for a moratorium on fracking in Northern Ireland. The motion was passed by a majority. The Assembly motion calling for a moratorium on fracking was supported by Sinn Fein, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party. The DUP opposed the motion and UUP abstained.
Despite this majority vote, the majority of Assembly members no longer support a moratorium.
In any event, the decision on licenses rests with Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment who is an advocate for fracking.
Of the two main parties he Democratic Unionist Party is in favour and Sinn Fein broadly against. The Ulster Unionist party is broadly in favour while the SDLP and Alliance are broadly against but these positions are quite fluid. The Green Party is against but has only one elected member in the parlaiment
The DUP, as the most important political party, are strong advocates for fracking citing jobs and energy security.
Shale Gas activities
Four five year petroleum licences have been granted in 2011 in Northern Ireland by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI):
Lough Allen Basin. 750 km² of County Fermanagh. Granted to Tamboran Resources (Australian). Tamboran are the most active business and have conducted many public meetings and are experienced in media and political lobbying. They employ four people and operate on cross border basis and have regularly claimed they be the first not to use chemicals. Their CX Richard Moorman no longer fronts the operation in Ireland. Their lead representative Tony Bazely is a former head of the Geological Service of Northern Ireland (part of DETI) and still sits on Council for Nature Conservations and the Countryside (the statutory nature/landscape advisory body to the government) which we regard as a major conflict of interest
Central Larne – Lough Neagh Basin. Area stretching from Lough Neagh to Antrim coast. Granted to Infrastrata plc. (UK)
Rathlin Island – granted to P.R. Singleton Ltd., subsidiary of Providence (C.E. Tony O’Reilly) (Irish)
October 2012 – Programme Strategy Meeting on Shale gas 33 | P a g e
Rathlin Basin Area covering Coleraine, Ballymoney and Ballycastle. Granted to Rathlin Energy, (Canadian).
Petroleum licences give exclusive rights to Licensees with regard to exploration, development and the production of petroleum resources but other departmental consents are required before field-based activities can be carried out. These licences therefore do not permit fracking to take place and none will occur until planning permission is granted.
Concern about the ability of the regulator to regulate this activity: Northern Ireland has a poor record of environmental regulation and has not the skills or ability to regulainterdepartmental regulatory liaison group has met and we are concerned that it appears to be chaired by DETI/GSNI not the actual lead regulator, the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency
The location of the key site straddling the Irish border will create further challenges for regulation and opportunities to play one jurisdiction off against the other
No Strategic Environmental Assessment was carried out for the licensing awards and we are concerned that the Habitats and Environmental Impact Assessment Directives and those Directives concerned with transboundary issues are not properly implemented
The Minister for the Environment says however he will be very robust in assessing any planning application and will be rigorous in applying environmental law. He is taking advice from the Republic of Ireland’s EPA and has visited the EPA in the USA on this matter. Local councils have very little say in the granting of consents as the decisions are taken by central government. The Minister for the Environment has the power to call for a public inquiry when a planning application is submitted
There are increasingly active campaigns mostly grassroots based, a lot of individual action and work by the Green party. Around five fracking related groups exist in Northern Ireland
Friends of the Earth is probably the lead NGO and is beginning to get more active. There are attempts being made to coordinate group and individual actions and a meeting will take place soon looking at the opportunities for judicial and other challenges (eg Aarhus, complaints to European Commission, Ombudsman etc)
Many health professionals are active in opposing fracking and some farmers but the very powerful Ulster Farmer’s Union is quiet on the matter