There were people standing around the edges of the room, in the hallway and spilling out into the car park for Dr Aedin McLoughlin’s presentation at the Clinton Centre on Wednesday 28th September. Dr McLoughlin presented the case for and against shale gas extraction, covering issues including health, quality of life and the effects on the local economy. The aim of the evening was to share information in order to help Fermanagh residents to make an informed decision as whether this gas extraction is welcome in their county. Mr Tom Noble, former Principal of the Erne Integrated College, very ably chaired the meeting, allowing those in attendance to ask questions and share concerns. He ensured that opinions both for and against the process were aired in a respectful manner. Dr Carroll O’Dolan of Florencecourt and Marius Leonard of the Corralea Activity Centre were also on the panel to answer queries.
Some local elected representatives were in the audience and they were called upon by others to “get off the fence” and make their position on the controversial fracking process known. Some were ready to state their views while others said that they would make up their minds when they felt they had all the necessary facts. This was welcomed by other residents, although the urgency of the issue was also emphasised.
The farming community raised issues particularly relevant to them. While leasing their land to the gas exploration companies may seem a lucrative opportunity for farmers, some expressed concerns about the potentially lethal waste that would be left behind and their ultimate responsibility for clearing it. It was also noted with anxiety that the chemical benzene, a petroleum product found in the flowback fluid coming up from the shale layer, could have a disastrous effect on the local agri-food industry if a leakage occurred. There was also much concern about the fact that planning permission was not required for the laying of gas pipes and that they could be run through any property without the owners’ permission.
Some of the landowners in attendance were very angry that any gas which might be extracted would almost certainly be exported and that very little if any would be used locally, meaning that the local economy would not benefit from lower fuel prices.
Dr O’Dolan was very concerned about the health implications of the process. The precise effects on human and animal health are very difficult to quantify, given that baseline studies are not generally carried out prior to exploration, but it has certainly not been shown that the procedure is safe for people, livestock or wildlife. He suggested we should wait until technology developed further and potential risks were mimimised. After all the gas, if left in the shale layer, is not going anywhere!
The audience was reminded that this process continues to be extremely controversial worldwide, that it is banned in many countries and states, and that pending law suits and protests are ongoing in countries such as the US and Australia where its use is more widespread. In England shale gas extraction has also caused much controversy with recent small earthquakes in Lancashire having been associated with the fracking process in the area. If this were to happen in Fermanagh, people were left to imagine, for example, the impact on the Marble Arch Caves, one of the county’s most important tourist attractions.
The meeting ended with the chairperson reminding those in attendance that the organisers – Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network – were not asking people to say a blanket “no” to shale gas extraction; rather, that they should become informed about the process before they say “yes”.
Further information meetings will be held in Newtownbutler on 4th October and Florencecourt on 26th October. Meetings are also being planned for Derrygonnelly, Garrison and Belleek.