Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Northern Ireland Assembly

A motion calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" was "fundamentally flawed", the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster told the assembly, on 6 November 2011.

"We are dancing on the head of a pin" she said, and reiterated that the licences that had been issued were not for fracking but desk-bound research into the potential for hydraulic fracturing.

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone had asked the minister to take account of three recently commenced EU studies into the effects of fracking.

The minister sought to reassure the assembly, including members of the public gallery who had presented an anti-fracking petition earlier in the day, that she had "full confidence" in Northern Ireland's planning process and other regulatory frameworks to deal with the issue.

She added that by the time applications for full drilling licences were made the Executive would have the benefit of the results of international studies on the matter.

In answer to the Alliance's Anna Lo she said that where the planning department did not have competence to deal with the matter, emerging international engineering protocols would be taken into regard.

She vigorously countered Steven Agnew who said out that the small print of the exploratory licences issued included a right to drill boreholes, by insisting that any such activity would be subject to the planning process.

Mr Agnew said that as Northern Ireland is the only UK region not to benefit from an independent environment agency, current provision was open to political interference.

The Minister said that embarking on the fracking process should not and was not intended to slow down investment in renewable energy, but that shale gas production could instead be a possible replacement for imported fossil fuels such as coal.

The Green Party MLA countered in his summing up that there were no guarantees that shale gas production would benefit Northern Ireland's population, that revenue would go to Westminster, and the gas would ultimately be sold on the international market.

The motion passed by 49 votes to 30, with 13 abstentions.

You can see the first part of the debate here.

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