Public debate on fracking to take place at Stormont, initiated by RSC

14 September 2012

The controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking', will be discussed by scientific experts, politicians and members of the public at a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, at Stormont, Belfast, on the evening of Monday 17 September.

The debate has been organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly's All Party Group on Science and Technology, which is administered by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and chaired by Basil McCrea MLA, who will also host the debate.

Fracking is a technique used by the oil and gas industries to release natural gas and petroleum from rock formations deep below ground level. The practice involves blasting rock at depths of up to 500m below the surface with large volumes of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals.

Professor Peter Styles, Professor of Applied and Environmental Geophysics at the University of Keele, will speak in favour of fracking.

Dr John Barry, Associate Director of the Institute for a Sustainable World at Queens University Belfast, will speak against the practice.

Professor Sandy Steacy, Professor of Earthquake Physics at the University of Ulster, and Gary MacFarlane, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Director in Northern Ireland, will also sit on the panel.

Those who support fracking claim that fuels can be produced safely, while providing a low-cost, cleaner alternative to coal.

Those who argue against the technique claim that it endangers local water supplies and that the gas produced will drive further climate change.

Fracking was reported to be the likely cause of earth tremors in Lancashire, England in the spring of 2011. However, a review by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in June concluded that fracking can be undertaken safely if best practice and effective regulation are enforced.

Reserves of natural gas in North West Ireland that could be extracted by fracking in areas such as Fermanagh, are estimated to be equivalent to 1.5 billion barrels of oil. However, some MLAs have voiced concerns about water pollution and damage to fisheries. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted for a moratorium on fracking at the end of last year.

Basil McCrea MLA, said: "Fracking is an important environmental issue for the people of Northern Ireland. I am very pleased to have been able to work with the Royal Society of Chemistry to organise this vital debate, to provide a platform for expert scientific views for and against to be aired and to enable the public to make their voices heard in the debate."

The debate will begin at 18:30 BST in the Senate chamber of the Stormont building. Members of the public are encouraged to attend

Contact and Further Information

Victoria Steven
Media Relations Executive
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322