Plans to extract shale gas from a substantial gas field in County Fermanagh have progressed beyond simply looking at its environmental impact, according to a group opposed to the process known as fracking.
Dr Carroll O’Dolan of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network was appearing before Stormont’s enterprise committee to discuss the proposals.
Energy firm Tamboran was granted a licence in April 2011 to explore the potential of the process and examine any negative environmental effects.
“The feeling on the ground in Fermanagh is that this is already far more advanced than thinking of an environmental impact statement,” Dr O’Dolan said.
Department of Enterprise official Mike Thompson said only a licence to explore had been granted.
“All we are doing at the present minute is having a look at what’s down there,” he said.
His comments were questioned by Sinn Fein Fermanagh MLA Phil Flanagan.
“If you are having a look to see what’s down there, then how come Tamboran have published figures telling us exactly what’s down there – the economic benefit, how many jobs it will create and how long it will give security of supply for,” he said.
Mr Flanagan also asked why he was not aware of any consultation before the licence had been awarded and questioned Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster’s involvement.
Mike Young of the Geological Survey Northern Ireland said the briefing paper offered to the committee showed all the people consulted, which included Fermanagh District Council, of which at the time Mr Flanagan was a member.
Mr Thompson said the minister had not signed off the licence and had “no role” in granting it.
This was disputed by Green Party leader Steven Agnew, who highlighted a letter sent to the committee by Mrs Foster in October 2010 which he said had informed members she was aware of the issue of a licence.
In response, Mr Thompson said: “She would have been aware of the process but that is very separate and distinct from having an active involvement in it.”