Public urged to attend free screening of ‘fracking’ film

A DOCUMENTARY film is to be screened in Larne as part of a public awareness campaign on “fracking” – a controversial process that enables energy companies to tap in to gas reserves that had previously been beyond their reach.

Local councillors are to have a private screening of the Academy Award-nominated GasLand, which examines consequences of fracking in parts of the US.

A free public screening is to take place at the McNeill Theatre in Larne Leisure Centre on Wednesday, December 14 (7.30pm).

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the blasting of water, sand or chemicals down a drilled well shaft to fracture shale deep underground and release gas for use as an energy source.

Energy company InfraStrata recently completed a seismic survey covering parts of Larne, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Antrim boroughs in search of geological formations capable of storing oil and gas. The next step under the licence granted by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is to seek permission to carry out test drilling in potentially gas-bearing shale formations in the area, known to geologists as the Central Lough Neagh Basin.

Shale gas has previously been detected in Co Antrim, but was deemed inaccessible prior to advancements in fracking technology.

The licensed area covers 663 square kilometres with exploratory wells identified in Cairncastle, Ballytober and Newmill, and InfraStrata has announced it hopes to begin drilling in 2012.

Alliance councillor John Mathews has encouraged council colleagues to attend the private screening. He revealed at a recent meeting of the local authority’s environment committee that he has a copy of the film.

And Green Party organiser Danny Donnelly urged the public to see GasLand. “Fracking is a very controversial process as there are obvious benefits to be had from uncovering huge natural gas reserves, but there would also be a cost,” said Mr Donnelly.

“There is currently a large and growing body of evidence that links fracking to mini-earthquakes, poisoned drinking water, dead livestock and sickness in humans,” he claimed.

“I would encourage anyone interested in this issue to come along to McNeill Theatre for a free public screening of the award-winning documentary. I believe we need to stop any fracking taking place here until there has been a careful examination of all the potential consequences. This process could severely impact our tourism industry, agriculture, our water quality, environment and our health.”

Natural – or shale gas – has been mooted as a game-changing solution to the depletion of other fossil fuel sources offering local energy security. It has been used for decades in the US, where it has helped to reduce reliance on costly fuel imports. However, opponents claim that chemicals used in fracking – the dominant form of extraction – have leaked into water systems and caused illnesses.

France has banned fracking outright, while it has also been halted in New South Wales in Australia, the Karoo basin in South Africa, Quebec in Canada and a number of US states. A House of Commons motion to introduce a UK moratorium on fracking failed on October 20.

Four prospectors hold licences to explore oil and gas sources in Northern Ireland, with the Central Larne-Lough Neagh Basin licence held by Surrey-based InfraStrata and eCorp Oil and Gas UK. The companies are also partners in the proposed project to store natural gas in salt caverns under Larne Lough.

Other companies have gained exploratory licences in the Republic, Britain and Germany. Only one operator - Cuadrilla Resources – has commenced, but its test drilling operations in Lancashire were temporarily suspended after causing two small earthquakes in the region earlier this year.

Tamboran Resources, an energy company granted an exploration licence in Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim, has indicated that it will not use chemicals during fracking and claims problems associated with the process in the US were down to loose environmental controls.