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UK: Ministers set to approve the extension of fracking

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency is undertaking an investigation the possible implications of fracking.

Image: Keith Srakocic/AP/Press Association Images

MINSITERS IN THE UK are set to approve the expansion of the practice of drilling for shale gas following recommendations contained in a government report.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting natural gas from pockets in underground rock. Water and chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressures to fracture rocks and allow pockets of natural gas to escape.

Experts involved in the report said that fracking was safe – despite accepting that two small earthquakes in Blackpool last year were caused by the first stages of the practice being carried out there.

The report did raise serious questions about the safety of fracking in areas of known seismic activity, noting that the integrity of at least one of the wells in Blackpool had been damaged by the earthquake provoked by fracking, the Guardian reports.

However, the report recommended that fracking should be allowed on a wider scale, providing that a “smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage” was included – which has not taken place at existing sites to date. The report also called for “an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events [as] part of any future fracking operations”.

One of the report’s writers, Peter Styles, professor at Keele University, Brian Baptie of the British Geological Survey, said that further fracking at the Lancashire location would likely result in further earthquakes.

Ireland investigating potential consequences of fracking

Fracking has not been banned by the Irish government, however several county councils in Ireland – including Donegal, Sligo, Clare, Leitrim and Roscommon – over concerns raised about the safety of the practice.

Opponents of the practice say it causes problems with disposal of the fracking fluid and can possibly contaminate water supplies.

However, some proponents of fracking, such as Senator Feargal Quinn, say that tapping into the a rich natural resource could stimulate job growth.

In response to the developments in the UK, Quinn told TheJournal.ie that that he believed allowing fracking in Ireland was worth serious consideration. While noting that investigations would first need to be completed to satisfy questions about the safety of the practice, Quinn said that Ireland could follow in the UK’s footsteps by similarly introducing a certain amount of controls.

However, Sinn Fein’s Energy spokesperson Phil Flanagan rejected the suggestion that the British report may have an impact on policy in Ireland, saying the report was “completely irrelevant” to what happens in Ireland.

He also described as “bizarre” the assertion that fracking was safe after the “limited review” carried out by British experts.

He said that the review had looked  onlyat the issue of earthquakes during the fracking process, but did not take into consideration any of the other potential dangers that are associated with fracking “such as water contamination, the use of toxic chemicals and what is done with the waste water afterwards”.

Flanagan added:

The review panel determined that fracking does indeed cause earthquakes but that any earthquakes that will occur would probably be very small in magnitude and as a result, fracking is safe to use. But how can they determine if it is safe without even considering the potential damage that would be done to the borehole as a result of movements deep underground.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating the possible implications of fracking, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, said last week that no licences will be awarded for the mining of gas through fracking before the EPA has presented its findings.

“We simply don’t know enough about the process,” Rabbitte said last Friday when referring to two motions seeking to prevent Ireland from proceeding with any exploration before full environmental audits.

“Last October I commissioned the EPA to do a study on this issue,” Rabbitte said. “We don’t have the expertise and in fact it has taken almost three years to produce a report in the United States on this subject.

Read more of TheJournal.ie’s coverage of fracking>

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