Letter of concern to NI politicians and reply from Mark Durkan…

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Letter from a campaigner to politicians re. Steven Agnews petition and the reply from Mark Durkan

Dear Sir/Madam,
A few weeks ago you were contacted regarding Steven Agnew’s petition. I am very concerned.
I am concerned that Rathlin Energy indicate intention to explore for unconventional gas in our North Coast.

I am concerned by the extension to Tamboran’s licence and I am concerned to learn that other companies have also been granted extensions to their work programs at cost to us the taxpayer. I am concerned that these extensions amount to self regulation.

I am concerned about the lack of due diligence carried out by DETI in granting licences and in monitoring and regulating the licences given that all these extensions are now being sought/granted.

I am concerned that the licensees are taking advantage of having no moral hazard, as these extensions (and indeed the licences) incur no penalty, or no annual rental.

I am concerned that the Petroleum Legislation under which these Licences were granted was not fit for purpose – ie no annual rental fees payable –  Our natural resources are being granted FREE  –  the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland does not grant licences with no annual rental –  Why does Northern Ireland ?

I am concerned that DETI is not communicating these changes in line with Aarhus and other legislation.  Indeed they neglected to inform the ETI committee haven given assurances they would do so, about Tamboran’s extension.

I am concerned that there appears to be other slippages in licence REGULATION – e.g. Reports by Licencees delivered late.

I am concerned that MAPB (Minerals and Petroleum Board) – the licence regulator – may be delegating decisions to GSNI who are NOT a regulator.

I am concerned that Tamboran wanted to change their work programme just 4 months into the licence. In Jan 2012 (10 Months into the licence) they publicly announced they wished to drill their test borehole. In May 2012 they requested permission and were granted permission to change their work programme.  They have had 22 months in which to complete this work but have failed to start. I am very concerned as to who is in control of our natural resources.  I am concerned that ALL of this information had to be dragged out of DETI, especially given the public interest in the matter, and especially given the provision for access to information on the environment.
With respect to Tamboran’s licence extension, it is very clear that the targeted formations are the shales in Co. Fermanagh. The borehole is to test the shale for brittleness and other qualities – (e.g. amount of carbon).   Part 2 of the programme clearly talks about hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. I cannot find an AGREED EXECUTIVE POLICY on Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction. That a UGEE study is still underway highlights that this POLICY is not yet fully formed.  We fail to see how the Minister’s decision to grant an extension to a licence for unconventional gas exploration can be correct while studies are ongoing.
Tamboran’s licence targets Shale Gas, but NO Strategic Environmental Assessment was carried out before granting of the licence.  EU commission recommendations state that an SEA should be carried out on all Licences which target unconventional fossil fuels and where high volume hydraulic fracturing may be used.
The numerous reports which have become public since the original licences were issued outlining the dangers to health from the holistic procedure including the drilling phase, places a duty of care not only on those elected representatives who made the initial decision to issue the licence, but those such as yourselves who have the legal ability to ensure that it is not quietly extended.
Since the beginning the people of Northern Ireland have been denied a democratic decision on this. Whatever your views on fracking, in the interests of democracy, the people of Northern Ireland deserve this debate.

I request that you add your name to Steven Agnew’s petition and refer the decision to extend Tamboran’s licence back to the Northern Ireland Executive.

Yours sincerely,
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Reply
Thank you for your email

The Department of the Environment has received a notification from Tamboran of its intention to drill an exploratory borehole in Fermanagh.
The SDLP position in regards to fracking is clear. Both myself and former SDLP Environment Minister has adopted an enhanced precautionary approach to fracking.I have stated that there is no planning application with the Department of the Environment to frack.
Granting permissions relating to fracking operations will only take place when it has been supported by very strong evidence which indicates that fracking is safe for public health and the environment.

No decisions have been taken in relation to permitting fracking. Indeed, no planning application or applications for environmental permissions have been received by the Department of Environment.

I have stated that if any such applications are received in the future they will be considered in a very robust manner.
Under planning rules, this type of exploratory drilling may fall under ‘permitted development’. However, before the company is given permission to proceed, a full “screening “ process under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations will be required to ensure that there is no potential for significant environmental impact.

I will ensure that this screening process is rigorous and definitive before permitted development rights are considered.

Yours Sincerely

Mark H. Durkan MLA