RONAN McGREEVY and MARK HENNESSY, London Editor
Irish Times
18 Apr 2012

THE NORTH’S Minister for the Environment has said a British government-commissioned report that allows for fracking in certain circumstances does not mean it will go ahead in Co Fermanagh.

Alex Attwood reacted cautiously to the first official report by the British government into fracking, which concluded that the procedure caused earthquakes last year. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a procedure used to extract gas from underground.

The British scientists who reviewed scientific data collected after the small earthquakes in Lancashire in April and May last year said future earthquakes linked to fracking could not be ruled out, but they were unlikely to pose any danger. Earthquakes took place on April 1st and May 27th last year, registering 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale respectively. They were noticed by residents around the Preese Hall drilling site and elsewhere, but they did not cause damage.

“We agree with the conclusion that the observed seismicity was induced by the hydraulic fracture treatments at Preese Hall,” said the scientists, who reviewed data collected by scientists commissioned by exploration firm Caudrilla.

“However, we are not convinced by the projected low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments,” said the scientists, including Prof Peter Styles of Keele University.

“We believe it is not possible to state categorically that no further earthquakes will be experienced.”

A “traffic light” system should be put in place to monitor testing at the Lancashire site, if it resumes, so drilling would be suspended if a 0.5 Richter scale tremor was experienced, rather than the 1.7 Richter event proposed by the company’s commissioned scientists.

“This would be a prudent threshold value, to reduce the likelihood of events perceptible to local residents and to offer a higher margin of safety against any possibility of damage to property. This threshold value can be adjusted over time, if appropriate,” according to the report.

In response, Mr Attwood noted the possibility of earth tremors was only one aspect of concerns over the issue of fracking.

The North’s Department of the Environment has jurisdiction over fracking in Northern Ireland, so it could happen that the British government might allow fracking to go ahead in Britain, but it would not be allowed in the North.

Mr Attwood said: “I will consider this latest report, noting that its content is limited to the issue of earth tremors and does not address other issues and concerns around fracking. As Planning and Environment Minister, this approach will not be compromised.

“I continue to work with the Dublin Government on the issue, given that the Lough Allen basin is a shared cross-Border asset.”

The Irish Government declined to comment on the report.

Tamboran chief executive Richard Moorman said the report was “good news” for companies interested in fracking, but he too said it only covered one aspect of the process.

He said Tamboran, which wishes to use the controversial procedure in Leitrim and Fermanagh to extract gas, intended to use micro-seismic monitors recommended in the report, as they helped monitor the effectiveness of the cracking of rocks.

Leitrim anti-fracking campaigner Dr Aideen McLaughlin said the report showed the British government was essentially treating fracking as an experiment and lacked the know-how to monitor it properly.

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