Natural Resources

Rabbitte: Fracking could be good for Ireland – but only if it’s safe enough

The natural resources minister also denies suggestions that Ireland is “giving away” its oil and gas reserves.

THE MINISTER in charge of Ireland’s oil and gas reserves has said the controversial ‘fracking’ technique for gas extraction could be used to find gas in Ireland – but only if the technology is given a clean bill of health.

Pat Rabbitte said there had not been enough research done into the technique to establish whether it caused long-term harm to the environment, which would need to be completed before the procedure would be allowed in Ireland.

Rabbitte said the feedback of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is undertaking a major study on the environmental threats from the technique, would be taken on board before any exploration was approved.

‘Fracking’, or hydraulic fracturing, is a relatively modern technique which involves pumping water and chemicals into rock formations which are then forced open to release gas (and occasionally oil) from inside.

The technique has been criticised for contaminating ground water tables, posing threats to air quality, and causing surface contamination from chemical spills.

Rabbitte said if the technique was given “a clean bill of health and that the technology was safe and that the water tables weren’t damaged, and so on, you could see a situation where whoever’s in government at the time could consider that there is merit in us exploring to see whether we have resources in the area”.

He added, however, that we were “a long way from that” – and that the European Commission’s stance on the issue, which is being refined through the preparation of European legislation on the technique, was still to be brought forward.

Rabbitte also said there wasn’t “much reality” to suggestions that Ireland’s resources are being given away – but said he is open to changing the licencing terms if necessary.

He said Ireland’s current terms with potential oil and gas explorers did not leave the country exploited – and if they did, there would be considerably more enthusiasm about drilling in Ireland than companies have shown to date.

“The fact of the matter is that in 40 years we haven’t found any oil,” he told in an exclusive interview. “So ti say I’m giving it away or I’m not taxing it severely enough, or that the exploration costs should be more reined in or whatever, doesn’t have much reality.”

Rabbitte admitted that he had hoped Ireland may have “Norwegian-style prospects” in previous decades, but that Ireland’s record of three gas finds, and only prospective oil wells identified to date, meant the countries’ prospects could not be compared.

Ireland’s current tax regime for natural resources, introduced decades ago, levies a 25 per cent tax on the profits from any gas or oil found in Ireland’s waters.

However, the costs of any such exploration are deductible from the tax bill – meaning companies could potentially recoup the costs of previous failed explorations before having to pay any tax to the Irish state.

Further, critics of Ireland’s current licensing system have taken issue with the fact that Ireland does not require gas and oil exploration companies to make some of the find available to Irish users.

Rabbitte said the resources were of no use to anyone, however, if explorers could not be encouraged to start prospects off Irish coasts.

“We have to get the prospectivity levels up. Companies come here if they think they have a good chance of striking oil or gas. They haven’t been coming in, even for what are alleged to be low tax rates. So if our tax rates are so low, why is there not a forest of exploration ships off Dalkey Head?” he asked.

Rabbitte said he was prepared to bring in outside expertise to make recommendations on changing Ireland’s taxation system, but that his own instinct and his first responsibility was “to get more activity offshore”.

Filming and editing by Michelle Hennessy

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