Alarm sounded that drilling and fracking of Northern Ireland farmland is imminent

Farming depends on clean water and air. In the coming weeks, the Stormont Executive could approve petroleum licensing policy options in parts of Northern Ireland for drilling and fracking that could poison the water and air and leave farmland polluted for generations to come.

Fracking has not started in Northern Ireland because of public opposition and it has been banned in the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales due to environmental and public health impacts.

Fracking is an extreme extraction method where oil and gas corporations drill down into rock formations and inject large volumes of water and chemicals at high-pressures to blast fractures in the rock to release oil and gas.

In 2020, the Department of Economy hired Hatch Researchers for £63,000 of taxpayers money to conduct an assessment of the impacts that fracking would have on the water, air, land and communities of Northern Ireland. Local residents and organizations submitted public comments, along with an international organization of health professionals, doctors and scientists who submitted a Compendium that they published of the nearly 2,000 scientific studies and government reports documenting that fracking harms public health and the environment and cannot be done safely.

The government’s Hatch Researchers report concluded in July.

Since then, community members and groups asked the Department of Economy for the final report but were refused. Finally after public outcry, the document was leaked anonymously, posted to social media and given to the press on November 21st.

The government’s Hatch Researchers report admits they did not conduct a public health impact assessment a glaring omission.

Yet even though it is greatly flawed, the report does acknowledge that fracking in Northern Ireland will pollute groundwater and air, damage soil, cause earthquakes, harm plants and animals, and hinder tourism.

The areas where there are petroleum licence applications are particularly sensitive hydrological areas in Fermanagh, where a company called Tamboran Resources UK applied for a licence in 2016. This lakeland area connects Lough Erne and the Shannon River.

Another application by EHA Exploration covers five council areas of Belfast, Antrim, Newtownabbey, Armagh City, Banbridge, Craigavon, Lisburn, Castlereagh and Mid Ulster. This area nearby Lough Neagh supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water.

While the Hatch report only speculates that there will be a small number of 34 wells, companies like Tamboran have previously stated their interest in drilling thousands of wells.

Northern Ireland residents and community groups, as well as allied international organizations, are advocating to the Stormont Executive and Ministers from all the political parties that they must create a policy that bans petroleum licences. That will stop the petroleum licences to Tamboran and EHA Exploration for drilling and fracking from being granted. If the government grants oil and gas corporations the licences, then drilling and fracking will follow and will be very difficult to stop.

Given the public opposition, report findings, and the overwhelming evidence of harm, as well as the fact that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have banned fracking, it is unfathomable that Stormont and the MLA’s from the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist Party, Green Party, and others would allow the policy for petroleum licensing to proceed.

Yet given secrecy around the report and lack of public process, campaigners say it is urgent to contact MLAs now.

Diane Little, from the community group LAMP Fermanagh and owner of a family farm, adds: “We have to protect these beautiful farmlands now and stop fracking before it starts. We urge everyone, no matter their political affiliation, to contact Executive Ministers and MLAs and tell them to create a policy to stop petroleum licensing now.

“Our water connects all of us and it is the source of life on our farms and our communities.

“We cannot and must not allow it to be poisoned.”