Our recent Fracking awareness meetings in Florencecourt and Cashel have been well attended by local people including many from the farming community. There was also a good turnout of fishermen at the Cashel meeting.
Farmers were particularly concerned about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the local agri-food industry. These small businesses are dependent on quality production to maintain their position in this niche market. The slightest suggestion of contamination of beef or milk could mean financial ruin. Speaking after the meeting Dr Carroll O’Dolan, spokesperson for FFAN, noted that where the farming community are struggling to survive in the current economic climate “even the perception of contamination could destroy the local agri-food industry”. At the end of the Cashel meeting committee members of the Garrison-Lough Melvin Anglers Association spoke of their concerns about fracking and its impact on the fishing on the famous waters of Lough Melvin.
Farmers who had diversified into tourism were equally anxious. They spoke of huge personal and public investments in Fermanagh’s tourism industry. This investment has created a brand recognised both nationally and internationally – ‘Fermanagh welcomes you naturally’. But will tourists still want to come here if Fermanagh loses its green and clean image to become one of concrete, heavy industry and heavy traffic? If there is a long term risk of water contamination and/or toxic chemicals getting into the food chain how will our fishing and Lakelands fare? There is a real concern that secure jobs in Fermanagh’s tourism industry could be under threat if ‘fracking’ is allowed to go ahead to be replaced by short term “potential” jobs.
Looking ahead, many were concerned about what happens when the extraction process is over. “Industrialised land” covered with concrete and contaminated with chemicals both above & below ground, cannot be farmed; indeed the landowners may find themselves responsible for difficult and expensive clean-up operations.
Other farmers were downright angry; if they are strictly regulated and penalised if they deviate from DARD & DOE regulations, then why were four exploration licenses for shale gas and oil extraction issued in Northern Ireland with very little consideration as to the impacts on health, the environment, the rural way of life and no public consultation?
Fracking for unconventional gas and oil is a relatively new technology which is causing much controversy around the world and has been banned or put on hold in many regions. It is significantly different from fracking for conventional gas & oil reserves, which has been used for the last sixty years. The British Geological Survey has concluded that fracking was the likely cause of the recent earthquakes near Blackpool, and that these earthquakes were between 10-100 times stronger than the usual low-level seismic activity that can normally occur in that area. A recent poll in the Guardian newspaper showed that 68.3% of respondents were opposed to fracking in the UK.
Closing the meeting in Florencecourt Dr O’Dolan said “We don’t know the long term impact that fracking will have on our health and the environment thus the precautionary principle should apply. The Governments should wait for the outcome of the very detailed studies being carried out in the USA & Europe, and both due for release in 2014. The ‘Sure we’ll see how it goes, if it turns out bad we’ll stop’ attitude is too dangerous.”