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Fracking in Fermanagh

Sources of natural gas have been found deep beneath the ground in Fermanagh. Fracking is a process used to extract gas so that it can be used as a supply of energy. Permission to extract the gas by fracking has yet to be granted - so what’s the debate?

The natural gas is found in shale rock formations and the rock needs to be fractured to release the gas- that’s why it’s called “fracking”. The fractures are caused by injecting fluid, under high pressure, down a well, into the gas reserve. The fluid is made up of water, chemicals and sand. The sand keeps the fracture open and allows the gas to flow to the surface where it is collected.

Fracking is common in the USA, with at least 19 states involved in the process, and it now accounts for 22% of US gas production.

The process has been given the green light by an independent investigation carried out in England, after two earth tremors occurred close to fracking sites in Blackpool.

The investigation report, suggested that fracking could continue as long as safety measures were taken. However, opponents of fracking protest that it has a negative impact on the environment and can contaminate water supplies. 

Phil Flanagan, MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said that claims it was safe were bizarre: "This review solely looked at the issue of earthquakes during the fracking process. It did not take into consideration any of the other potential dangers that are associated with fracking such as water contamination, the use of toxic chemicals and what is done with the waste water afterwards."

The Assembly's Green Party MLA Steven Agnew also criticised the report, saying: "This report has been unfortunately misinterpreted to suggest that fracking is a safe process - it is not."

However, other MLAs are reluctant to dismiss fracking. Alastair Ross MLA suggests “What we need in Northern Ireland is an educated debate about fracking and an honest assessment of the real potential that shale gas has to provide us with security of supply and cheaper energy costs.”

The Environment Minister, Alex Attwood MLA, said that a rush to introduce fracking method of natural gas extraction in Northern Ireland would be ill-judged. Alex Attwood said he would study the report's findings. But he stressed: "The right approach is to ask, do we want to or need to extract the gas and can it be done safely?

In summary, supporters of the process point out that obtaining natural gas through fracking can help meet the demand for energy and lower costs for the consumer. The process would create jobs and boost the economy. However, objectors say that it damages the environment and has potential health risks.

What do you think?