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Ban on fracking in Republic of Ireland expected to be extended after reports revealed major environmental risks

Research undertaken by independent organisations including the British Geological Survey, University College Dublin and Ulster University

By Paul Melia

Published 30/11/2016

Anti-fracking protesters at a camp near Little Plumpton, Preston
Anti-fracking protesters at a camp near Little Plumpton, Preston
Anti-fracking campaigners react outside County Hall, Northallerton, after councillors approved an application by UK firm Third Energy

A ban on fracking in the Republic of Ireland should remain in place after a series of reports found there were major risks to the environment including water contamination and escape of gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that although fracking is possible, there is a widespread risk and that further study is required before it is allowed.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Denis Naughten said the report’s finding justified the continued ban on fracking in Ireland, which is in place since 2013. The Dáil has recently agreed to a permanent ban in principle.

“I believe the report's findings justify the continuing prohibition on the licensing of hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “I am on record as having raised concerns with regard to the use of hydraulic fracturing. I am pleased that these matters of concern have been addressed in the report.”

Fracking involves drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure mixture of water and chemicals is used to shatter shale rock to release natural gas. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure, which allows gas to flow to the surface.

Deposits of shale gas are believed to be available in Leitrim, Clare and Fermanagh, but no exploration was allowing until the research programme from the EPA was complete.

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The Joint Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) involved five research projects which looked at the impacts of fracking on water, seismicity and air quality, as well as a review of operational practices around the world.

The work was commissioned and funded by the governments in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

The EPA noted that the work was being carried out in the context that Ireland had committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and eliminating oil and gas over time.

It found that fracking had the potential to “impact both human health and the environment”, and there was a lack of data or international experience which “did not permit” a “reliable” assessment of consequences.

They included concern about groundwater aquifers being polluted if wells failed, with cracking in rocks potentially allowing pollutants and gas to flow into water.

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There was also a concern about gas escaping, even after wells were capped.

“Methane is an important greenhouse gas and therefore this is an issue of concern,” the EPA noted.

It found that these issues needed to be resolved prior to any fracking being allowed.

Fine Gael TD for Sligo Tony McLoughlin, has said that the findings in the EPA report justifies his anti-fracking legislation, which he introduced in Dáil Éireann in October.

Mr McLoughlin said: "The research was undertaken by a consortium of independent organisations, including the British Geological Survey, University College Dublin and Ulster University.

"It looked in detail at the potential impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE) on water, seismicity and air quality.

"The study acknowledged there were three main impacts where data and/or experience wasn't sufficient to establish a reliable assessment of the consequences of fracking. These included the possible pollution of groundwater supplies due to the failure of gas well integrity; the potential increase in the migration of gas and pollutants as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process and the possible impact of gas emissions as a result of the fracking.

"The study noted that these concerns would require clarification before environmental protection and human health can be ensured.

"The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten has said that he believes the Report's findings justify the continuing prohibition on the licensing of hydraulic fracturing in this country. He said there are concerns particularly on such matters as long term well integrity; the potential release of toxic chemicals from the ground; and the significant and considerable potential implications that the use of this technology may have on people in rural communities as a consequence of the spatially dispersed pattern of housing in rural areas.

"Minister Naughten says the report provides the robust underpinning for decision making on this issue of public concern and I believe it justifies the introduction of my anti-fracking legislation, entitled, ‘The Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016’.

"My legislation provides for a clear and unequivocal position in relation to the exploration and extraction of petroleum from shale rock, tight sands and coal seams on the Irish onshore and also in our internal waters.  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.

"I have been extremely concerned for a very long time about the damage and harm that onshore ‘Fracking’ could cause in Ireland, and it is my firm hope that my Dáil Private Members Bill will prevent this type of exploration from ever occurring in Ireland."

Irish Independent

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