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'It's hypocrisy': TDs, senators and Hollywood actors round on the government over US fracked gas being used in Ireland

A terminal in the Shannon estuary earmarked to hold fracked gas is to be placed on an EU special projects list.

Mark Ruffalo tweeted Leo Varadkar urging him not to sign up to US fracked gas to be used in Ireland.
Mark Ruffalo tweeted Leo Varadkar urging him not to sign up to US fracked gas to be used in Ireland.

THE USE OF fracked gas from the United States being imported and used for Ireland’s energy needs has the government in hot water this week. 

The government has faced criticism from opposition parties in the Dáil over two consecutive days for backing a project which would see fracked gas or liquid natural gas (LNG) be imported to Ireland’s first LNG terminal in the Shannon estuary in north Kerry.

The project, which has been held up in legal challenges, is to be included on a special list of European energy projects which are due to be signed off on Friday in Brussels.

The Kerry project has been criticised by the Green Party, Solidarity-People Before Profit, as well as Friends of the Irish Environment. However, some TDs such as independent Kerry politician Michael Healy Rae, are positive about the project with Healy Rae stating that it is good investment and good for jobs in his constituency.

Opposition politicians rounded on the government yesterday, stating that just a week ago the Taoiseach told the UN Climate Action Summit that Ireland would ban oil drilling.

Leo Varadkar did state that the exploration of gas would continue in Irish waters, as it is a transition fuel, he said. 

Fracking has been banned in Ireland since legislation passed in the Dáil in 2017. 

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

The government have been dubbed as hypocrites for banning fracking here, but allowing for it to be imported for use from elsewhere around the world.

Hollywood attention

The issue has even got the attention of some Hollywood actors, with Mark Ruffalo tweeting Leo Varadkar appealing for Ireland to be a leader in climate action. 

“It would be disastrous to allow US fracked gas mix into Ireland’s energy,” he said. 

People Before Profit was due to table a motion next week calling for the government to drop its support for Shannon LNG to be placed on the special projects list. 

Due to the deal being signed off on later this week, TDs pushed to have a debate on the issue today. 

The motion which was due to be tabled next week had cross-party support, with over 40 deputies from opposition and independent groupings signed up to the motion.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told TheJournal.ie that the Irish government banned fracking, stating: 

If it isn’t good enough for us, then why are we foisting it on other countries.

Allowing imported fracked gas be used in the Irish market, “flies in the face of the government’s climate action commitments”, he said. 

By pushing the Kerry project as a priority infrastructure project to be approved by the EU, the Irish government is signing the country up to decades of fossil fuel use, said the People Before Profit TD. 

He raised the issue with the Taoiseach yesterday, stating it “is absolutely outrageous”.

“As we speak, there are people over from Pennsylvania and so on who are here to give testament to the extraordinary pollution, damage and adverse health effects that have been inflicted on the people of Pennsylvania and elsewhere from this fracked gas.

“Mark Ruffalo, the actor, has been tweeting all week appealing to the Government not to approve this terminal because of the damage to human health and the environment it is doing in the United States. We banned fracking in this country because we did not want those effects in our countryside. Do we think simultaneously that it is okay to inflict them on the people of the United States for a so-called transitional fuel which in actuality is every bit as dangerous for global warming as carbon dioxide when we take into account methane leakage,” he added. 

Labour leader Brendan Howlin agreed with Boyd Barrett, calling for a full debate on the long-term importing into the State of gas that is produced by fracking.

“There are real concerns about that,” he said.

Government’s response

Varadkar said the LNG terminal was not discussed at Cabinet level, adding that he did not believe that facked gas will exclusively be imported to the Kerry plant. 

“My understanding is that the LNG terminal could be used to receive fracked gas, but not necessarily or exclusively. It could receive any liquefied natural gas so it could be used to receive gas transported by sea that is not fracked,” said the Taoiseach.

However, TDs such as Bríd Smith and Boyd Barrett maintain that they have a letter stating fracked gas will be imported.

A statement from a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said that in the context of concerns raised by TDs, the minister “intends to ask the European Commission to review the relevant evidence on LNG in the context of adopting more ambitious climate targets”.

The statement added that the minister will also ask for a review of where and how the fuel is sourced:

The minister also intends to carry out a security of supply review which will consider what fossil fuels are required, and how they are sourced, during the transition to a low carbon economy.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton told the Dail this week that the Shannon LNG has been on the list of projects of common interest at EU level for six years.

“It is likely that it will continue to remain on that list. Gas has been recognised as an important transition fuel, as we move away from oil, peat and coal to renewables,” he added. 

It was not just an issue that was raised in the Dáil this week. Senators such as Alice Mary Higgins also spoke out in the Seanad this week against imported fracked gas being used. 

“It is such hypocrisy. This is about revisiting decisions and looking at them in a new light. When that was originally proposed, we had not banned fracking on our own shores. We have since banned it because we recognise the enormous environmental, climate-change and health impacts from fracking for shale gas. Why then would we inflict it on the rest of the world and import it from the rest of the world. We certainly need to go back to the drawing board in this,” she said.

The Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment told TheJournal.ie that the proposed Shannon LNG project is a private commercial project and any future investment decisions on the development of the project and its future operation “are matters for the project promoter”.

“The project was originally designated as a project of common interest by the EU commission in 2013 and it remained on the list in 2015 and 2017,” it added, stating:

Gas will continue to play a crucial part in the transition to a low carbon society – both at a european level and also here in Ireland as we move from 30% to 70% renewable electricity as part of the Climate Action Plan.
The Climate Change Advisory Council has stated: ‘the Council advises that the continued exploration for, and recovery of new offshore natural gas reserves can be consistent with a low carbon transition.’

A debate on the issue will be held at 1.30pm in the Dáil today.

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