Protests against fracking in the border areas are reaching a climax as exploration company Tamboran has until the end of next month to decide whether to commence drilling or abandon their shale-shifting project.
A petrol bomb attack dramatically raised the profile of the matter this week. It took place last Sunday on the home of a man involved in providing security for Tamboran at Belcoo in County Fermanagh.
Tamboran plans to extract ‘natural’ gas from shale by hydraulic fracturing or fracking - a process which is known to have serious public health implications and threatens farming and tourism by damaging the environment.
Fracking involves the shattering of oil- and gas-bearing shale deposits in the earth’s crust, by forcing down fluids and sand, thus releasing the fuel. The consequences of the process remain unpredictable and almost random.
Belcoo, which is near the border with the 26 Counties, has become the focal point for both the protesters and Tamboran. The Belcoo Community Protection Camp is reminiscent of the Rossport Solidarity Camp operated in County Mayo, where a local left-wing coalition has frustrated the development of a dangerous and environmentally threatening gas pipeline and refinery.
If ‘fracturing’ goes ahead in the border areas, then large tracts of Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim could be transformed into a ‘cracked egg’ environment: above the shattered earth’s crust with dangerous gas releases erupting from beneath the soil into the water and the air.
Stormont’s Minister for Energy, Arlene Foster of the DUP, largely supports the fracking project, which is strongly opposed by both nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
Ms Foster said she suspects some of those intent on causing trouble for the project are part of a “range of people, everything from anarchists to anti-capitalists, and, I am afraid to say, to some dissident republicans as well”.
Groups opposed to fracking swiftly condemned the petrol-bomb incident. The MP for the area, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, said someone could have been seriously injured and she “unreservedly” condemned the attack.
“While the vast majority of people in Fermanagh and further afield oppose fracking, this is not the way to express that opposition,” she said.
Ms Gildernew said her party was “totally opposed to fracking and will block any proposals to frack in Fermanagh if and when that comes before the executive.”