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Irish parliamentary watchdog backs fracking ban: 'Risks outweigh the benefits'



A fracking exploration drilling site

A fracking exploration drilling site

A fracking exploration drilling site

An Irish parliamentary watchdog has backed a ban on fracking, with a warning that it would be irresponsible to allow it.

After a months-long inquiry, cross-party politicians found that drilling for shale gas from rocks, sands and coal seams creates the potential for groundwater contamination, leaks and surface chemical spills.

In its report to be published on Wednesday and seen by the Press Association, the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment said that uncertainty over how much greenhouse gas is produced by the industry is reason enough to ban it.

And it warned that a "vigorous regulatory regime" may not be enough to prevent pollution.

"The committee accepts that, while there may be economic advantages and enhanced energy security for Ireland in allowing unconventional oil and gas exploration, the committee is of the view that these benefits are outweighed by the risks to the environment and human health from an as-yet relatively untried technology," the report said.

The committee said its likely that investment in renewable energy would be hit by further exploitation of fossil fuels.

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Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves drilling into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is forced into rock to release gas.

Last October, cross-party TDs backed proposed legislation on the ban, put forward by Fine Gael TD for Sligo-Leitrim Tony McLoughlin and subsequently examined by the committee.

The fracking bill is due back before the committee in May with Government amendments before it will be voted on again in the Dail.

Oisin Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, urged the committee to progress the bill without further delay.

"I understand the report reflects the overwhelming evidence that the committee received that the risks from fracking outweigh any possible advantages," he said.

"We have now established all party political support. There's obvious public support for a ban and now the committee's analysis of the evidence is also clear, but we don't think the parliamentary process reflects the urgency of the issue, I worry the Government is trying to delay it.

"It's a simple bill. It's time to get on and pass it."

Three exploratory licences were granted in Ireland in 2011 for fracking, but no extraction has taken place.

A report for the Environmental Protection Agency late last year warned of three areas of concern on fracking - polluting groundwater from failing or deteriorating wells; underground cracks spreading hundreds of metres; and gas leaks, including of methane, from shut-down well heads and deterioration.

Last month, Sligo councillors voted for a second time to include a ban on fracking in the county's new development plan.

While backing the proposed ban on fracking, the committee has called for the legislation to include penalties for breaches and it also recommended the proposals be extended to include geothermal or other activities which could be used to access shale gas in other ways.

France, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Germany have all banned fracking.

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