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Five-year report outlines dangers of fracking and 'underpins' proposed ban

A bill calling for the banning of fracking in Ireland passed its first stage in Dáil Éireann in October of this year.

Pumpjacks extract oil from an oilfield in Kern County, California, where about 15 billion barrels of oil could be extracted using hydraulic fracturing.
Pumpjacks extract oil from an oilfield in Kern County, California, where about 15 billion barrels of oil could be extracted using hydraulic fracturing.
Image: Shutterstock/Christopher Halloran

NEW REPORT has identified concerns that need to be addressed over fracking in Ireland.

In October, a bill to ban fracking in Ireland passed its first stage in the Dáil.

A relatively new industry, hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of blasting deep through shale rock to access gas and fuel deposits contained below.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)s research programme on fracking aimed to answer two questions: can the operation be carried out without damaging human health or the environment; and what is the best way to carry out fracking operations.

Public concern about the controversial energy extraction method focused on health to local residents, water resources, induced seismic activity and emissions.

Environmentalists also expressed concern about the potential changes to the environment if the practice were used frequently.

In their assessment of the main concerns in relation to fracking, that the intention of creating huge cracks could leave water sources open to contamination through natural pollutants, they found:

  • Fracking wells can fail and contaminate the water table
  • The cracks generated during fracking can contaminate ground water and we don’t know enough about the location of underground aquifers to prevent this
  • Even wells that have stopped production can (and do) leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Neither the reasons for this, nor the scale of the emissions is quantitatively known and so their impact cannot be reliably assessed until further data are available.

But Green Party councillor David Healy said that the report didn’t go far enough:

“The EPA’s report focuses on whether we can safely extract shale gas through unconventional methods.

While we welcome the Minister’s commitment to maintaining the current moratorium on fracking on the back of this report, the question we really need to be asking is whether we should be continuing to insist on a dangerous, 20th century approach to energy policy that is not fit for the future.

“The report fails to acknowledge the wider context of the debate on fossil fuels. We know that four fifths of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. We have 10 years left before we reach 1.5 degrees of warming. That is the reality of the situation.”

However, Climate Action Minister Denis Naughten said: “I believe the report’s findings justify the continuing prohibition on the licensing of hydraulic fracturing.

“I have decided to refer the report to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment for its consideration.

I hope this will assist at the Committee Stage debate of the proposed hydraulic fracturing legislation to be progressed by the Oireachtas next year.

A bill calling for the banning of fracking in Ireland passed its first stage in Dáil Éireann in October of this year after receiving cross-party support.

Assistant Fine gael Whip Tony McLoughlin, who introduced the bill, said today that his legislation “provides for a clear and unequivocal position” in relation to fracking.

The Bill does not seek to simply ban the technology associated with fracking, rather it seeks to ban the act of taking oil and gas out of the ground, where usually fracking would be needed.

Background

The research programme was made up of five projects which looked in detail at the potential impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE) on water, seismicity and air quality as well as a comprehensive literature review of operational practices and regulatory regimes.

In late 2011, the EPA was requested by the then-Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte of Labour, to commission and coordinate the management of research in relation to the environmental impacts of fracking.

The research programme was funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, DCCAE (formerly DCENR and the Environment Division of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

The research programme was managed by a steering committee comprising the EPA, representatives from DCCAE, the Geological Survey of Ireland, Commission for Energy Regulation, An Bord Pleanála, NIEA, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Health Services Executive.

A total of eleven reports were published on the subject and can be found on the EPA website here.

Read: Dáil welcomes Bill to ban fracking in Ireland

Read: Corbyn’s Labour are dead against it, but what’s the up-to-date situation with fracking in Ireland?

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