The prospect of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Northern Ireland as a source of gas or oil was discussed during today’s Questions to the Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan. While the fracking process can help recover untapped sources of gas and oil there is considerable concern over its impact on public health and the environment, in particular its effects on water quality, air emissions and ground contamination. These concerns were echoed by Phil Flanagan who was keen to find out where the Minister stands on the controversial subject. Mr Durkan revealed that officials from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) are working with the Environmental Protection Agency to research the issue and determine the facts on fracking. Until more is known, it will “only take place when it has been supported by very strong evidence that fracking is safe for public health and the environment”. Given the uncertainty over the long-term effects of fracking, any other approach would be “reckless and irresponsible”.
The proposed Local Government Bill was also at the forefront of Question Time as the Bill enters its final stages. Bronwyn McGahan asked the Minister how the rights of minorities will be protected in the new councils following the implementation of the Bill. Mr Durkan outlined the processes that will be put in place to ensure a fair system and declared that he is “committed to ensuring that the 11 new councils will work within the Governance framework that provides for fair, transparent and efficient decision making and protects the rights and interests of all people”. In response to a question from Michael McGimpsey the Minister also discussed the estimated costs of Local Government reform. The Minister reiterated that the reform is a “huge investment” and is “not about doing things differently, but doing things better”.