Petroleum Licences: Environmental Factors

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 2:00, 6 December 2021

1. Mr Carroll asked the Minister for the Economy to outline what consideration he has given to environmental factors in the granting of petroleum licences. (AQO 2837/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I have not granted any petroleum licences, and there are no petroleum licences in place in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. I do not know if that is exactly the case. Given that there is widespread concern about the environmental impact of petroleum licences on local habitats and people who work on the land, does the Minister accept that we need to keep all fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to have a chance of stopping climate change, and does he support a ban to prevent the progression of any future petroleum licences?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

As the Member will be aware, one of my predecessors commissioned independent research into that issue. That report is being considered as part of the development of policy options for the future of petroleum licensing. The report will be published when the Department is in a position to publicly consult on the future options for petroleum licensing, but of course that needs to be considered and approved by the Executive first.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I wrote to the Minister's predecessor in January 2020 setting out Sinn Féin's opposition to petroleum licensing in the North, and I understand that the Department has had the report, which the Minister referred to, since July. The lack of clarity since then is causing anxiety and concern to communities, which have also voiced clear opposition to petroleum licensing. Can the Minister at least provide a date for when the report will be published?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I have previously said that I hope to be able to take the report to the Executive by the end of this year, and that is still my intention.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Minister, you will be aware that there was recently a leak of information around the report. That is unhelpful in that we need to have the report in front of us so that everybody can see it. Minister, will you indicate now the direction of travel that the Department will be taking in order to assure the public that we will no longer be exploring for petroleum or other carbon-based fuels in Northern Ireland and that those fuels will be left in the ground where they rightly belong? We need a very clear statement from you, Minister, and from your Department on that.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Of course, that is not a decision just for me but is, rightly, an Executive decision. That is why independent research has been commissioned. That will be part of the evidence base that we use when we discuss the matter as an Executive, and that report will then be published once we consult on policy options.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

Minister, in view of the comments made around the House, are there any live applications in the system that include fracking? Has the Minister approved any?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

It is a no to both those questions.