- in Environment
A council is to hold an inquiry after a “very significant error” was found in the wording of planning guidelines on fracking sent out for public consultation.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has halted the consultation and set up an audit to find out what happened.
Councillors had agreed the wording of a local development plan to guide planning decisions.
But when it was sent out for consultation it had been changed.
The original wording precluded unconventional hydrocarbon extraction – or fracking – until there were guarantees that it would not affect the environment or public health.
The council’s chief executive Alison McCullagh acknowledged the rewording of the public consultation had “impacted adversely” on public confidence in the process.
“It’s apparent that the arrangements in place for document oversight and control were not as robust as expected,” she said.
The original wording had stated the council “will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until it is proved that there would be no adverse effects on the environment or public health”.
But the reworded version said: “Council will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all associated impacts on the environment and human health.”
Confidential council minutes showed officials in the Department for the Economy criticised the original wording.
They had suggested it be amended to more closely reflect the position on fracking in Northern Ireland’s regional planning document – on which local development plans are based.
Environment Exploratory licence
The wording that appeared in the final version sent out for consultation by the council is similar to that in the regional document.
A spokesman for the Department for the Economy said “local development plans are required take account of the regional context set by the Northern Ireland Executive and central government departments”.
“The Department for the Economy provided a response to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council draft plan strategy as a statutory stakeholder.
“There is no requirement for the department to commence a formal investigation of staff connected to this matter.”
Fracking is a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas or oil trapped within it.
Tamboran, an energy firm, has applied for an exploratory licence to assess the potential for shale gas in 608 sq km of County Fermanagh.
The licence is currently being considered by the Department for the Economy.
Were sufficient gas to be discovered, and a full planning application granted for commercial drilling, the gas would be recovered by a process of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction.
Fracking is banned in the Republic of Ireland and in England there’s a moratorium after concerns resultant seismic activity was affecting communities.