Are Sinn Fein & DUP selling out Fermanagh to fund UK Exchequer with fracking revenues?
Possibly. If so, here’s how they can do it.
In Northern Ireland (NI), the Crown Estate owns the subsurface mineral rights or assets, such as shale gas extracted by fracking. Revenue from the sale or lease of Crown Estate assets like shale gas to mining companies will go, it is assumed, to the Chancellor of the UK Exchequer George Osborne.
While the UK government reaps the benefits of fracking, the people of Fermanagh — many of them supporters of Sinn Fein and the DUP — will suffer the consequences, including any competition for critical water supplies, any pollution of water sources, any air pollution from extraction and from horrendous truck traffic on back country lanes, and the inevitable rise in fugitive methane emissions.
This last impact, the methane emissions, should be of especial concern to the farming community in Fermanagh because it further complicates NI’s non-compliance with greenhouse gas emission (GHG) obligations under UK and EU law. How can NI increase agriculture production, as it plans, with the increase in methane emissions from farming if at the same time it allows fracking with even more fugitive methane emissions. So farmers will be competing with wealthy, foreign gas exploration companies for limited water and for the increasing pressure to reduce methane emissions.
Unfortunately, the two parties collectively have taken steps that can lead to the protection of business interests and UK Exchequer, not the people of Fermanagh.
What suggests such an outcome?
The current Planning Bill in NI contains a provision, in sections 2 and 6, that gives added weight, if not dispositive priority, to “economic considerations” in planning decisions. Without Sinn Fein and DUP assent, if not indeed insistence, such provisions would not have been included. These provisions were published with the Bill, were the subject of public comments, most of it adverse, and were considered by the NI Assembly environment committee.
In June 2013, in preparation for his visit for the G8 meeting, in of all places Fermanagh, Prime Minister Cameron met with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to agree on a package of economic and integration measures that were intended, in part, “to encourage private sector investment and job creation in Northern Ireland,” to show that NI is “open for business,” and to promote “initiatives to drive investment in infrastructure.”
Such statements can be innocuous enough but subsequent to that meeting and communiqué, and at the last minute in the Assembly’s taking up the Planning Bill, and without public consultation or consideration by the environment committee, Sinn Fein and DUP added two new provisions to the Bill which provisions can only be described as extraordinarily hostile to environmental protection and the public right to full participation in the planning process. One provision limits the grounds for appeal of planning decisions to violations of human rights or of EU law. The other provision empowers the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) — in other words, Sinn Fein and the DUP — to create economic zones in NI with control over planning decisions in such zones in the hands of the OFMDFM.
It does not take any paranoia, or even much imagination, to see an economic zone created by the OFMDFM covering Fermanagh with unlimited rights for foreign gas companies to frack away without legal redress for local farmers and residents.
We shall see.
Economic and integration pact for Northern Ireland: building a prosperous and united community (14 June 2013). www.gov.uk/government/news/economic-and-integration-pact-for-northern-ireland-building-a-prosperous-and-united-community