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Calls to exclude fossil fuel industry from all fracking research

However, the Environmental Protection Agency has said it would be unlikely that somebody with no links to the fossil fuel industry could produce a report on fracking processes.

Image: Mike Groll/AP/Press Association Images

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Agency has said that is would be unlikely that anybody commissioned to write a thorough report on fracking in Ireland would not have some knowledge or experience of the fossil fuel industries.

The statement comes after calls from environmentalists that Ireland should follow Germany and introduce a rule to exclude researchers with any links to the hydrocarbon industry from all future studies.

A spokesperson for the EPA told that she could not confirm if such a move would be considered, adding that it seemed unlikely. The matter would fall under the remit of the report commissioning body.

Last year, the EPA put out a tender to find a suitable author for a report into current knowledge about the environmental considerations and impacts of shale gas exploration and extraction, and in particular the use of hydraulic fracturing technology. It was published as the first part of a wider study in May 2012. Dr David Healy of the University of Aberdeen was chosen for the project, during which he identified potential risks to groundwater purity and tremors or earthquakes as possible environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The importance of well integrity and knowledge of local geology were also highlighted by his research.

Friends of the Earth has questioned the choice of author, noting that he has received funding from Total E&P UK and BG International. Dr Healy discloses this information on his staff page on the University of Aberdeen website. Although the group does not accuse Dr Healy of bias, it questions whether his impartiality can be assured.

The EPA stood behind its choice, describing Dr Healy as a “senior lecturer in a long established academic institution” who is a “balanced and thorough researcher”.

A spokesperson continued: “It could be argued that in order to respond to a research call of this nature, the report author would need to have had some sort of experience with the fossil fuel industry in order to have the necessary knowledge and background to write a thorough and balanced report.

The content of the report did not indicate any bias towards industry. It is also worth nothing that the report received a very thorough peer-review from a UCD professor.

In a statement, Dr Healy said that while he does have some research projects funded by the hydrocarbon industry, he also noted other funding sources, including national research councils and charitable bodies.

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“My work is published, peer-reviewed (including the report for the EPA), and centres on improving our scientific understanding of rock fracture and fluid flow,” he continued. “There is no bias.”

A second study into fracking in Ireland is currently at the preparatory stages. The EPA has noted recent European Commission requests for tenders on related projects and is working to ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap between the two bodies. Although Friends of the Earth have called for more than €6,000 (the cost of Dr Healy’s report) to be spent on the second study, the EPA has said the budget is yet to be confirmed.

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