Photo: Love Leitrim

Renewed bid for fracking license in Fermanagh

May 9th, 2019

An Australian energy firm has renewed a licensing process that could lead to fracking for natural gas in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh.

Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy launched a new consultation on Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd’s application for a licence to evaluate the natural gas in the shale and sandstone rocks in the south-west of Fermanagh on Tuesday.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a process for extracting natural gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas.

The gas, formed through the decomposition of dead organisms in the rocks, can then be captured and used as a source of energy.

It is believed that fracking may contaminate the environment, compromise humans’ health by polluting drinking water and trigger tremors or minor earthquakes.

The Republic of Ireland is part of a small cluster of countries that have imposed a ban on the controversial practice.

A five-year study published by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 found that fracking has the potential to damage both the environment and human health.

fracking ban, hydraulic fracking
Protest in support of Fracking Bill in the Republic in 2017 Photo: Niall Sargent

Tamboran Northern Ireland branch was originally awarded a licence to probe for gas in Belcoo by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2011, a move that prompted condemnation from the public and many local politicians.

In 2014, several hundred protestors gathered at the proposed drilling site, pushing open a security fence to stop test drilling for gas.

Strong opposition eventually compelled the then-Minister for Trade, and now DUP leader, Arlene Foster to rescind Tamboran’s gas-probing licence. 

In light of the recent announcement, activists have vowed to unite against the project’s potential renewal.

“There’s a lot of anger and obviously the people in the local community wanted to show the strength of opposition that exists here,” Donal O’Cofaigh, a local anti-fracking activist told The BBC this week.

Tamboran has reiterated its claims that the proposed first phase of the operation would not involve fracking. The company hopes to carry out a test drilling process that is supposed to confirm the presence of natural gas at the site in Belcoo.

Speaking in defence of the proposed operation, the chief executive of Tamboran UK Karl Prenderville said that the company is committed to ensuring ecological safety throughout the operation.

“There are two stages to this five-year licence. It starts with an exploratory borehole collecting rock samples to carry out tests on the composition of the rock that contains the natural gas.

“This does not involve fracturing; it is a standard drilling procedure lasting only a number of weeks,” he added.

“We are seeking to prove the natural gas is there in the quantities we expect, that extraction will be economically viable and that it can be done in a safe and environmentally friendly way,” he said.

The issue of the environmental impact of natural gas was raised recently through a court case about a proposal for constructing a €500 million liquified gas (LNG) terminal on the Southern shore of the Shannon Estuary in Co Kerry.

Friends of the Irish Environment (FiE), who took the case against planning permission for the project, argued that the proposed terminal may harm aquatic life in Shannon waters and does not line up with our climate change obligations.

In February, the High Court deferred judgment on FiE’s case against the proposed terminal, referring the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In the interim, Mr Justice Simons said that he would be “very concerned” if the developer intends to carry out any works concerning the “so-called planning permission”.

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.

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