A NATURAL gas network will be rolled out in Enniskillen and Derrylin by 2015, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has said.

It's understood Quinn Glass could be one of the first local companies to switch to gas.

Plans are at an advanced stage and next year the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) will liaise with the Utility Regulator to offer gas companies the opportunity to bid for a licence to supply the area with gas. Already a number of companies have expressed an interest in doing so.

Mrs Foster, who will ask the Northern Ireland Executive for government subvention, believes businesses and home-owners could make "significant savings" by switching to gas from oil.

"This is going to happen and I am very pleased about that. I have set a challenging time frame to have this completed because I know the importance for choosing gas, particularly for businesses. Very often when I visit companies energy prices is what they want to see going down and having gas in the West will allow companies to make the choice," she told The Impartial Reporter.

It is hoped the gas network extension, which is included in Stormont's Programme for Government, will create both short and long-term employment opportunities in the construction, engineering and energy sectors.

And Quinn Glass in Derrylin, which the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA describes as "an energy intense company", is keen to reduce its costs by making the change.

"I have already had discussions with Quinn Glass. The company would benefit from the gas infrastructure because they spend so much on energy when making glass. This would keep the manufacturing costs down," she said.

A number of agri-food companies in Enniskillen are thought to be considering switching to gas as well.

And while Mrs Foster is keen to point out the many advantages to businesses, she says home-owners will have something to smile about too. According to her department, oil is currently some 35 per cent more expensive than natural gas.

"This will give home-owners the choice. It will help people who are struggling with fuel poverty and will move people off oil and onto gas, which is much more carbon friendly," said Mrs Foster, adding: "It will likely be 2015 by the time the pipeline is in place".