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Frack off: Minister blocks test drilling in Fermanagh

Mark H Durkan says that full planning permission is required.

Image: Youtube/Seamus TV

Updated 10.58 pm

PLANS BY AN Australian energy company to carry out test drilling for gas in Fermanagh have been blocked by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.

Tamboran had proposed to drill a borehole near the town of Belcoo but anti-fracking activists have been staging protests at the site for weeks.

The issue has also led to wider debate about fracking among politicians in Northern Ireland.

But this afternoon the SDLP’s Mark H Durkan has rejected permission to carry out the drilling, saying that full planning permission would be required.

The company had sought confirmation that they were permitted to carry out the tests under development rights but this has been rejected by the minister.

In statement this afternoon, Durkan said that he gave “careful consideration to Tamboran’s proposal” but decided that it was not permissible:

I have concluded that this is an Environmental Impact Assessment development requiring full planning permission and that permitted development rights do not apply. In making this assessment I have been mindful of my department’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected at all times and that full consideration is give to any likely significant environmental impacts of such a proposal.

Durkan said that he considered the fact that the site was already an existing quarry and that he was concerned that unauthorised extraction has already taken place there.

This has not been adequately investigated he said and as such it not possible to assess the cumulative effect of further drilling.

Therefore, Durkan said that his department must work on the “precautionary principle” that, if a risk cannot be excluded, the proposal cannot proceed.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth Ireland said that the minister “should be congratulated” on its decision, adding that lax regulation has led to problems in the past.

“It is particularly heartening to see Mr Durkan invoking the precautionary principle. Northern Ireland’s environment has suffered serious damage from unauthorised quarries and landfill sites, pollution factories and sewerage works, and over development of the countryside,” said FEI’s Northern Ireland director James Orr.

“I imagine the Minister has come under a lot of pressure from his Executive colleagues and industry lobbyists to allow this drilling to go ahead. That makes his decision all the more significant,” he added.

Local SDLP councillor Brendan Gallagher also welcomed the decision, describing it as a “bold step”.

He further called on Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to now place a moratorium on the licence granted by her department to Tamboran.

First published 5.46 pm

Read: “We are not going to win overnight.” – Anti-fracking activists as company prepares to start drilling >

Read: Protests continue at Fermanagh drilling site as worker’s home is petrol bombed >

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Rónán Duffy

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