Five SDLP councillors across five council areas have united to oppose any oil or gas exploration in the South Lough Neagh Basin.
It comes just weeks after SDLP, UUP and DUP opposed a motion by newly-elected Alliance Cllr Peter Lavery on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon outlining concerns about the exploration plans.
SDLP Cllr Thomas O’Hanlon (ABC Council), Cllr Donal Lyons (Belfast City Council), Cllr Johnny McCarthy (Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council), Cllr Malachy Quinn (Mid-Ulster District Council) and Cllr Noreen McClelland (Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council) issued a joint statement saying the geographical extent of the application is significant and cuts across five council boundaries.
“We do not believe that this application is in the ecological, environmental or human interests of communities across NI.
“The scale of this application is such that it will include several sites which have been designated by the European Commission as important to core breeding and resting for rare and threatened species, including the waterfowl, rare invertebrates and plants of Lough Neagh. The application area also stretches or borders on 21 Areas of Special Scientific Interest from the boundaries of Belfast Lough to the glacial peat deposits of Benburb.
“We have serious concerns about the impact oil and gas exploration will have on biodiversity, on intensifying our reliance on carbon-heavy industry and on people and communities here.
“We consider this a regionally significant application and, as such, the decision is likely to be taken by the Department for the Economy.
“It is important that the Department hears and understands the strength of opposition to these proposals,” they said calling for the restoration of an Executive.
Cllr O’Hanlon said: “Where we differed with Councillor Lavery is that he sought to form a Council view in a Council Committee when the correct prcedure is to formally bring a notion of motion to Full Council. We advised Councillor Lavery of the proper process and said we would support such a motion.
“The SDLP are opposed to fracking, just as we are opposed to parties trying to form council policy in the wrong manner.
“Procedures are there to protect the public and good governance and we will continue to follow those rules.”