STORMONT’S new Environment Minister Mark H Durkan says he alone will make a decision on whether to allow ‘fracking’ to take place in Northern Ireland
The SDLP MLA was responding after Prime Minister David Cameron gave his support for fracking in an article in a London broadsheet newspaper.
Mark H Durkan had said it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to agree to fracking, until all the scientific evidence had been properly assessed.
And he would make the decision, not the Prime Minister.
The environment minister was speaking a day after Mr Cameron urged the UK to support the controversial method of extracting gas from underground rock.
Supporters of fracking say it is safe and argue it is essential to make the UK more energy self-sufficient, but critics fear it can cause small earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage.
On Monday, the prime minister called on the UK public to support fracking, saying it would create jobs and reduce energy bills at home.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Durkan said fracking could not take place in Northern Ireland without his say so.
He said: “At present there is no planning application for fracking in Northern Ireland. If and when any application comes in, it will be for me to decide, not David Cameron.
“I am not going to make any decision until all the facts and scientific evidence are established. To do otherwise would be reckless and irresponsible,” the SDLP minister added.
However, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, who is both a former Stormont environment minister and finance minister, said Northern Ireland must not “lose out” on the opportunities and tax incentives provided by fracking.
Mr Wilson said: “I am concerned that Northern Ireland’s new planning minister shares the same short-sighted, green-tinted views of his predecessor on this issue and it is important that we do not introduce planning restrictions which prevent energy firms from looking at Northern Ireland as a potential source of shale gas.
“It will be the ultimate irony for an area with the highest energy prices in the United Kingdom to turn its back on the opportunities to obtain cheaper gas and create thousands of jobs because of the views of an anti-development, anti-growth group of green romantics who think that we can generate our energy by ruining the countryside with 300ft wind turbines.”
Mr Durkan was appointed as Northern Ireland environment minister last month, replacing his SDLP colleague Alex Attwood.
Days after being appointed he got married and at the weekend had his appendix removed in hospital.