What’s all this #fracking nonsense then Arlene?

Mention money and land and someone, almost anyone, in the DUP and some people get very excited. But all that’s happened is that 54 acres of her husband’s farm has been included in the vast area in which permission for gas exploration may be sought:

As previously noted by Andy, the area under consideration is potentially huge: “the North West Ireland Carboniferous Basin in counties Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh.”

I’ve looked at what it means before but it’s not that easy to retain on casual glance; so here’s a quick run through what it means with a sketch of some of the potential associated risk…

Ms Foster might have flagged up a possible conflict of interest were it even remotely likely that someone wanted her husband’s 54 acres for ‘fracking’. Not least since in the absence of an independent Environment Agency, her panel of experts will have no statutory independence.

Her assertion that she would have no direct involvement in that panel’s decision, belies the fact that the whole purpose of such a panel would be to advise her as Minister. At the heel of the hunt, she will be the one who makes the decision.

As the Irish News reports today, neither Mrs Foster or her husband has done anything wrong here.

But there is a larger conflict of interest emerging more generally ie between environmental protections and commercial interests. Without a statutory protection agency, some departments in the Executive are displaying a routine disregard for environmental law that’s racking up major costs at a time when the Executive can ill afford it.

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  • andnowwhat

    Tried to find a link but according to Noel Thompson’s interview with Peter Robinson, Mr Graham seems to think there is a conflict. I also noted Robinson’s emphasis on the land belonging to Ms Foster’s husband.

    That may be a smart game to play before a committee but is it a smart one go play to one’s electorate?

  • andnowwhat

    Mick, there was an excellent documentary on Radio Ulster about exploration in and around NI, including off Rathlin. I can’t find it but if you can, it might be worth linking.

  • andnowwhat
  • Mick Fealty

    Well, you explain it to me?

    Here’s how I cut it:

    No deal, no sign of a deal. Just the potential of one. It doesn’t look good, sure. But thats just her critic’s spin.

    The real conflict is not a personal one; it lies in how the decision will be made. And given how the Minister of Agriculture has been racking up bills for her illegal breaches, there’s not many clean hands round the Executive table on this one.

  • andnowwhat

    Easiest way to understand fracking is to use it’s alternative name,hydraulic fracturing.

    I’m just opposed to the procedure no matter who is doing it. Google “fracking, earthquake, pollution” and my concerns should be evident.

    In relation to Ms Foster, I don’t like the game of playing the spouse card whether it’s Ms Foster, Peter Robinson, Lord Ashcroft or Philip Green. It insults our collective intelligence.

    In relation to the Dept of Agriculture minister, I believe it was stupid and possibly lazy popularism but there’s a clear difference between that issue and the fracking story.

    Ms Foster’s tone in this link does nothing to convince me of her neutrality on the issue in light of the world wide concerns re. fracking..

  • Cynic2

    “I’m just opposed to the procedure no matter who is doing it.”

    …..your protest has been noted. Now please go away

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a defensive press line, not a serious defence (which at this stage is not needed). There are two sides to the fracking business; the business case and the environmental.

    The potential for triggering quakes is a headline grabber, but it’s the potential for polution of the water table that would worry me more in this case.

    And the fact is that none of our political parties has much of an appetite for facing down environmental damage if it goes against the popular line.

  • andnowwhat

    Agreed about polution concerns Mick and the lack of concern expressed. I noted, in the UTV video, Mike Nesbitt addressing the issue of the minister but (as you point out) there is no real issue as yet. There’s a bigger issue than a point scoring exercise.

    Cynic 2, this is Micks blog and it is for him to yellow, red or black card folks and to issue instruction regarding posts, not you

  • Cynic2

    “this is Micks blog ”

    Totally agree. My comment was directed at the bald statement of ‘i am agin it’ without specifying what alternatives that are affordable and practicable you are for.

  • andnowwhat

    Well, here’s a clue. We live on a wet, windy island at tje second most western point of europe, exposed to the winds for over 3,00 miles to the west

  • Cynic2

    So you would despoil our landscape with acres of wind farms. Shame on you. Better to let Fermanagh sink another few inches into the bog

  • I am always cagey about language,

    had no direct involvement

    does that mean had involvement but not directly

    had involvement through a proxy

    would have been better to say had no involvement whatsoever than say no direct involvement.

    i am just suspicious now about the language used.

  • The yokel

    An independent environmental regulator, like every other legislature on these islands, would be an excellent idea. Merging DRD, DoE and DARD would be another. But it’s not going to happen, It suits neither NICS or the MLAs – they are all just too comfortable the way things are. Waste a few hundred million – does it really matter? Keep voting the bigots in, that’s the important thing.

  • Los Lobos

    I can just hear it from the Ministers mouth like last time “i am minded to” bla bla bla. Anyone remember Seemore (money), sorry, Sweeny and his bid for the Giants Causeway centre? The DUP and SF are really the flip side of the one coin. Their disregard for procedure when it comes to cronyism is breathtaking. It doesn’t matter if you screw tourism to the wall in Fermangagh in the quest for megabucks, or indeed building a monster road through virgin forests and farmland (see plan for A5), all that matters is getting enough cash to grease the palms of those who will keep you in power. I don’t think anyone should be surprised at these abuses, both these parties began life as serial political abusers. Just because they reeled in some of their more dispicable traits doesn’t mean that they decomissioned the “abuse culture” ! The only positive around the whole thing is that their greed will see them eventually consume themselves, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • Melanie

    An exploratory licence has already been granted for the Fermanagh area…with a high possibility of applications to undertake hydraulic fracturing as the company has indicated. Three other licences were granted this year in NI – for Rathlin Island, the Rathlin Basin (including onshore from Ballycastle to Limavady), and for the Larne-Lough Neagh Basin. These are also of concern for potential fracking…although it seems that Rathlin Island will not be so feasible for fracking because it doesn’t have the land mass required for the number and density of wells required for fracking…and it wouldn’t be economical to get the number of trucks required backwards and forwards with the millions of gallons of fracking fluid required for the process (and for disposal for the ‘produced water’ (contaminated waste fracking fluid) that comes back up the bore hole afterwards).
    I’d certainly prefer to have the landscape covered in windmills and solar panels that do not contaminate my water supply, than drill-wells that do…

  • Melanie

    Google images of fracking to see the wells and their density and you will see what it means for the look of the landscape…never mind the contamination and health problems they can cause,
    e.g. http://kininline.blogspot.com/2011/04/fracking-frightening.html

  • raftonpounder

    Wind Farms cause visual pollution and that is a completely subjective experience. I personally think that they arent too bad a sight.
    Fracking is, pure and simply, pumping poisonous chemicals into the water table in the hope of getting an even more polluting substance out. The drilling wells are unquestionably ugly. Drilling for natural gas will make it harder to reach our emission targets. The gas/profits will be taken out of the country. Anyone who thinks it will mean cheaper gas for people of NI is deluded.
    I dont actually think Arlene has done anything wrong in this occasion given the massive scale of the area offered up for exploration. I’d be more concerned at the total lack of transparency in poltical funding meaning that Tamboran could have legitimately given DUP £Xthousand to “aid” decision making and we would have no way of knowing.
    Fracking is a perfect intersection of why we need an independent environmental regulator and transparent political finances.
    They have it everywhere else in these islands, why dont we demand the same standards?

  • Melanie

    Unfortunately an environmental protection agency would not necessarily rule out fracking. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has granted a licence for fracking to take place in Scotland and expects it to become more common. It is hard to understand why they would do this given the concerns of many other countries. Even the European Parliament’s report on the impacts of fracking is alarming reading.


    Who knows how independent environmental agencies can be? The US environmental protection agency is undertaking a new study because their previous studies were apparently not particularly ‘independent’.

    What concerns me most about Minister Foster’s approach is the complete lack of willingness to give respectful consideration to the safety issues being raised by her constituents and by others across the country.

  • Boglover

    What is the real issue here? As I see it, the fundamental point is that NI imports 96% of its energy at present. The price of dong so will undoubtedly increase and security of supply decrease. It is irresponsible of any government not to address these issues and one aspect of doing so is to investigate availability of local supplies, be they renewable or traditional, since a mixture of both is needed to meet our energy needs.

    In light(!) of the above, I welcome DETI’s efforts to identify what potential local sources are present. No politician needs telling twice that there will be an almighty row when voters turn the switch on their light/cooker/heating and nothing happens. IMO, if sources are present, the development of shale gas or Rathlin oil is a matter of when, not if. The deciding factor will be the economic viability of doing so.

    Turning to fracking, the company involved in the Fermanagh (Tamboran) have given an absolute guarantee that no chemicals will be used in the process, other than sand and water. I accept the point already made about the visual impact, but the well pads are less visually intrusive than wind farms, since they can be sited in woods and hollows, not on the tops of hills. I also worry about the impact from the infrastructure necessary to both build and operate the wells. However, none of this should stop NI from discovering what resources are present. The licence is for exploration, not production.

    Where this gets murky is the local political edginess in Fermanagh. Local SF reps have been using the issue as a way of dishing Foster, saying that she has no local mandate to licence this. The land ownership is a red herring, since the area licensed for exploration is almost half of the whole county, from which the company has chosen to concentrate their search in a relatively small area with the best prospects. Foster is very unlikely to have known that the search area favoured by the company would include her husband’s land and, even if she had, probably had no need to declare an interest, since the siting of the well pads is flexible in any case, so will be subject to some market forces.

    Finally, while no great admirer of our regulatory regime, my observation of the pressures English, Welsh and Scottish “independent” equivalents tells me they are under huge pressure to produce the politically expedient solution. This pressure is brought to bear by reducing funding and hitting jobs; no different whether independent or government department, I’m afraid.

  • Ciarán

    Scaremongering, really Arlene?

    If it’s all scaremongering then perhaps Arlene can explain to the people of Fermanagh how it is that people in America have flammable water, how known carcinogens and toxins at dangerous levels are now in America’s water supply? Perhaps she can explain why all of sudden, places in the middle of the desert now have air pollution levels compatible to a city? Maybe she can explain why country roads are full of HGVs?

    Maybe it’s all a coincidence? Or maybe it’s more likely that all of this started when they started fracking.

    I’d recommend you watch Gasland, a great documentary about fracking across the US.


  • Neil

    Scary pics there Melanie. What do you call it when a minister doesn’t need to declare an interest, but then post criticism decides to declare an interest?


    Maybe she’s declaring an interest now, even though she doesn’t need to, just to be, ya know, careful – better safe than sorry wha?

    Thing is to your casual observer – rightly or wrongly – it would appear that she should have declared an interest and the fact that she now has done so seems like an admission that she should have prior to this. It’s ammunition to people who like to talk about the DUP in terms of 5 pound strips of land that have done very well in even in today’s lacklustre market, Seymour and the Causeway, Ballymena rents, claiming the full Westminster food allowance despite never being there etc. etc. etc.

  • Sluggerposter

    Tamboran have pulled a u-turn on their commitment to chemical free fracking in Ireland – see: http://www.shelltosea.com/content/tamboran-u-turn-crucial-submission

    Aside from this we need to balance all of the costs agains the potential benefits from shale gas. I would highly recommend anyone to read the EU research briefing a link to which has already been posted here. One of the main issues they highlight is the potential for a lock-in if we start relying on gas rather than moving towards an reduction in energy consumption and also renewable forms of supply. It states:

    “On the contrary, it is very likely that investments in shale gas projects – if at all – might have a short-living impact on gas supply which could be counterproductive , as it would provide the impression of an ensured gas supply at a time when the signal to consumers should be to reduce this dependency by savings, efficiency measures and substitution.”

    We need to accept that shale gas is still a fossil fuel and scientists warn that a dash for gas would ‘wreck’ the UKs emissions targets. See – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/23/shale-gas-climate-change-targets

    For those who talk about energy supply security, the shale gas isnt going to suddenly disappear if we dont extract it today. Would it not be better to investigate this controversial process first rather than initiating this process and asking questions later (a costly mistake which the US seems to have made) While it may be selfish point to make, surely if people are concerned about future security it would be prudent to let the reserves sit there and extract them if we ever actually face a crisis of supply?

  • Melanie

    It sounds great in theory that we have this wonderful, secure, local energy source in shale gas. The reality is that the companies exploring for gas here are foreign companies (including Rathlin Energy Ltd which is owned by a Canadian company), and if they extract the gas it is likely to leave our shores or be sold back to us at standard market rates. The London exchequer would get the lion’s share of the tax, and the economic benefit to Northern Ireland would be limited. Just because the gas is underneath us doesn’t mean we own it or that it would actually be made available to the local market.

    On the issue of using chemicals or not in the fracking fluid – even if chemicals are not used in the fluid, the waste fluid from the process, ‘produced water’, can pick up toxic heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive substances from the rock, and bring it to the surface. This can pollute water supplies and the air. There is also evidence of naturally occurring methane finding its way into water supplies after fracking has taken place (with or without the use of chemicals).


    A petition is being submitted to Stormont on Tuesday 6th Dec in time for the Assembly discussion of a motion for a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing.


  • streetlegal

    Does anyone have a £5 note?

  • Melanie

    streetlegal, can you please explain to me what your comment means…i genuinely don’t know exactly what it means or if it is being directed at me…or arlene…or who/what. Sorry if I seem ignorant. If streetlegal doesn’t explain it, can someone else?

  • vanhelsing

    Melanie – its called trolling. Ignore it:)


  • Neil

    can you please explain to me what your comment means

    It’s a dig at a previous ‘scandal’ in which Peter Robinson purchased a strip of land for 5 pounds.


    Not really trolling as I see it VH. Arlene’s party colleague also had questions to answer regarding a conflict of interest re: 5 pound strip of land.

    Not to mention ‘homosexuals are worse than paedophiles’ Iris and the mooted conflict of interest when her teenage squeeze was applying for planning permission at the lodge.

    The conflict of interest element is a common theme running throughout. Perhaps a training course is in order? Lesson one, when shagging an applicant a conflict may arise.