The recent decision by Minister Durkan has been much criticised by Sammy Wilson. Not so much by Arlene Foster. Perhaps because she realises that she now must make a decision, and that previous decisions by her and her Department are under scrutiny.
If Tamboran want to stay in the process they will need to get another extension to their work programme. In fact they may even need to get an extension to their 5 year petroleum Licence, as some of these EIS and full planning may last longer than 18 months. Its still unclear exactly what will be required by the Department of the Environment and which studies the Environmental Impact Statement will have to contain. Tamboran seem to be talking with their legal teams rather than with the Departments that hold their future in the balance.
The next big decision will be for the Department Of Enterprise Trade and Investment. The Minister may once again abdicate responsibility to her Department. The fact that the licence has already been extended will come under scrutiny.
When that licence was extended back in March 2014 we were told that it was just an administrative decision. Questions on due-diligence were met with silence. Questions on the process were met with ‘it is only an administrative decision’. Indeed questioning the decision at all seemed not important judging by the reaction to Stephen Agnew’s assembly motion.
But it’s clear now the decision should have been questioned. While the emphasis is on Minister Durkan, the spotlight will fall soon on Minister Foster. She may say that all these decisions were taken by her Department, but that just raises the question of who is in control ? Quite apart from the granting of the licence in the first place, the extension to the work programme came after a spectacular failure by Tamboran to drill this hole. Tamboran have been contemplating this since at least January 2012. If they had gone ahead at that point, EIS or not, they would be through the process. Tamboran and the Department decided together in May 2012 to take the stratigraphic hole route rather than the multiple shallow boreholes. Again another Departmental decision which must be scrutinised.
So there now must be questions about Minister Foster’s apparent abdication of responsibility to her Department, her overview of her Department, and her and her Department’s inability to foresee how these decisions have backfired on her and the Department over which she seems to have only nominal control . Will she reward further failure with a new extension ? That is a big question.. and that spotlight is moving steadily in the DETI Minister’s direction !