Assembly Question 6827/17-22

Question: To ask the Minister for the Economy to provide an explanation for the commissioning of research into the economic, societal and environmental impacts of onshore petroleum exploration and production in Northern Ireland.

Answer: My Department has commissioned research into the economic, societal and environmental impacts of onshore petroleum production as part of an ongoing review of petroleum licensing policy in Northern Ireland.

In 2019, the Department began a wide ranging review of petroleum licensing policy, aimed at ensuring that the petroleum licensing policy continues to contribute to the delivery of objectives one and two of the December 2019 Outcomes Delivery Plan and future Programme for Government commitments; including that we prosper through a strong, competitive, regionally balanced economy and that we live and work sustainably – protecting the environment.

An initial high level review identified that, although a large amount of research is already available into the impacts of petroleum production, especially unconventional oil and gas production (including fracking), the information is not directly applicable to our unique position in Northern Ireland.

Similar, regionally specific, research has shaped petroleum licensing policy in Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland; albeit this work was largely focused on unconventional petroleum development and, we, in Northern Ireland need to consider the evidence base for both conventional and unconventional petroleum development.

The findings of the research will be used to enable my Department to develop robust, evidence based policy options and to inform meaningful public consultation on a proposed way forward in terms of policy outcomes.

Following the policy development and consultation process, it is my intension to bring recommendations for a future petroleum policy to the Executive. It is, therefore, vitally important that my Executive colleagues and I are able to rely upon high quality, regionally specific research when deciding on future petroleum licensing policy in Northern Ireland.

You will be aware that my Department is also currently considering two Petroleum Licence applications. The consultation on the two applications received over 5700 responses; highlighting a large number of potential impacts of petroleum development. The research will help ensure that the Executive and I are as fully informed as possible, before final decisions are made on whether or not these applications should be granted.

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