Could my land be fracked without my knowledge or permission?
Almost certainly, yes. The horizontal drill shafts can extend 1,500 meters from the well and the fractures can reach a further 600 meters. So if there is a well within that distance of your land, it’s likely that fracking will happen underneath you.
Would I be paid for this?
Probably not, unless the centre of the well itself is on or within a quarter mile of your land. Most oil and gas rights in Northern Ireland are owned by DETI and any royalties would go to the UK treasury. Even if you’re entitled to a share of the royalties, this is dependant upon actual gas extracted and saved through that particular well, so there’s no guarantee you would receive anything.
Can I be forced to have a well or access road built on my land?
Yes, under the Mineral Development Act, DETI has compulsory purchase and access rights (Mining Facility Orders) and it can pass the benefit of these on to the gas companies.
Would I be compensated for disturbance, subsidence, damage or the decreased value of my land?
Not automatically, no, other than any standard payment under a Mining Facilities Order. Apart from that, you would have to go to court, at great trouble and expense, to sue the gas companies. The legal position is unclear, but you would only probably succeed if you could show actual negligence and physical damage.
And if the company went bust or was wound up?
You would be unlikely to receive anything, and could be left with the responsibility and expense of decontaminating your land.
Would I be insured against any of these risks?
It depends upon your exact situation, policy and insurance company. You would be wise to check very carefully. Standard agricultural policies do not cover fracking activities on your own land.
But hasn’t fracking been going on in the states for ages with no problems?
Not exactly. This type of high volume hydraulic fracturing has only been used for the past decade or so, and has caused severe problems for local land owners. The gas companies have been exempt from much environmental legislation (of teh kind that farmers have to abide by) and so there has been little monitoring of their activities. When a problem such as contaminated water arises, residents have very often been forced to sign gagging clauses, so they cannot go public about their experiences.
But it would be better here, wouldn’t it?
Not necessarily. We have no specific laws about fracking, so are dependant on regulations drawn up for very different operations administered by bodies which are unfamiliar with the technology, often with a lack of resources and a poor history of enforcement. Fermanagh also has a very different landscape from most of America, with our complex network of loughs, rivers and streams, our rich habitats and unique geological heritage. If Fermanagh’s landscape was to be transplanted to the United States, say many Americans, there is no way that they would frack here.
What can I do if I’m concerned about this?
Contact your political representatives, especially MLA’s and ministers, and let them know that this issue matters to you. Talk to your neighbours, family and friends and encourage them to look behind the cheerful headlines.
If we are concerned about fracking in Fermangh, we all need to speak out now and make sure our voices are heard. It may not be easy, but it will be a lot harder to live with the consequences if we do nothing.
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