Sinn Fein fracking Bill 'meaningless' without commitment to prevent Executive adopting a petroleum policy that could grant licences in coming weeks

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Friends of the Earth has welcomed Sinn Fein’s introduction today of the first stage of a Bill to ban fracking in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The environmental campaigning organisation has warned, however, that it will be a “meaningless gesture” unless the party commits to preventing the Stormont Executive adopting a policy in favour of petroleum licencing, a policy option which DUP Minister of Economy Gordon Lyons has pledged to bring forward before Christmas.

James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland commented:

“Today’s Bill to ban fracking is welcome. But it is a meaningless gesture unless Sinn Fein also commits to preventing the Stormont Executive adopting a policy in favour of petroleum licencing.

“Time is slipping, and this Bill has no real chance becoming law before the Assembly elections in May whereas DUP Minister Gordon Lyons has pledged to bring a policy that could favour petroleum licensing to the Executive before Christmas.

“Sinn Fein can give the local communities campaigning against fracking the reassurance they deserve today, by making it clear they will block and stop any licensing to allow fossil fuel exploration. The only way to do that is announce they will categorically stop exploration by a policy decision at the Northern Ireland Executive”.

It is expected that petroleum licencing policy that Minister Lyons will propose to the Executive could open the door for the approval of outstanding drilling and fracking applications in Fermanagh, Lough Neagh including five council areas near Belfast. The areas for these petroleum licence applications are particularly sensitive hydrological areas in Fermanagh, where a company called Tamboran Resources UK applied for a licence in 2016. This lakeland area connects Lough Erne and the Shannon River. The other application by EHA Exploration covers five council areas of Belfast, Antrim Newtownabbey, Armagh City, Banbridge, Craigavon, Lisburn, Castlereagh and Mid Ulster. This area nearby Lough Neagh supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water.

Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth in the Republic, commented:

“Sinn Féin have been always been very vocal against fracking and their General Election manifesto last year promised ‘A total ban on fracking across the island of Ireland, including exploratory drilling’. They need to follow through now by ensuring that the Stormont Executive does not adopt any policy that facilitates exploration licences before the Assembly gets the chance to approve their new fracking Bill.

“Sinn Féin are in power in the only region on these islands that doesn’t have a legal ban on fracking. Given their vocal opposition to fracked gas I expect them to prevent any move that would facilitate exploration or drilling licences.”

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