A few years ago, amid much concern locally, North Monaghan was identified as part of a border area where fracking (hydraulic fracturing for shale gas) was planned. Last month, Richard Boyd Barrett TD introduced a Bill to the Dáil which, if passed, would completely ban fracking in the Republic of Ireland. This week Transition Monaghan member Dearbhla Lenehan examines the fracking issue.
Richard Boyd Barrett’s ‘Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing Bill 2015’ to the Dáil was co-drafted by An Taisce’s Assumpta O’Broin and Friends of the Earth‘s Kate Ruddock. It prohibits any undertaking, permit or license to explore, prospect or extract shale gas using fracking or any other method in Ireland. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a method to extract gas from shale rock by drilling and injecting fluids composed of water, sand and chemicals at a high pressure to fracture the shale rock and release natural gas.
Unfortunately, in the U.S. where this technique is used regularly to extract gas, there have been cases where chemicals and contaminants have leaked into the ground water supply, affecting the local drinking water and the surrounding environment. In some areas mild earthquakes have been attributed to fracking activity. In addition to local effects, environmental groups point the use of fracked gas or oil contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
In 2011 there was controversy surrounding the granting of gas exploration licenses to Tamboran Resources and Enegi Oil Plc to search for commercial gas in the Northwest Carboniferous Basin (also known as the Lough Allen Basin) and the Clare Basin. The Lough Allen basin covers and area of 800 square kilometers and includes parts of Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo, Tyrone and Roscommon. The Clare Basin encompasses parts of Clare, Cork, Limerick and Kerry. In Northern Ireland after some initial exploration work by fracking companies the Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durkan announced a plan to ban fracking last year.
Proposed Fracking Regions (source –frackingfreeireland.org)
At present the Irish Government has agreed not to issue further licences until an EPA-led research study on the ‘Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction’ is completed and considered. This study is due for publication in late 2016. Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) along with other anti-fracking campaigners initiated a ‘stop the study’ campaign in September 2015. This ultimately led to the drafting of the bill Richard Boyd Barrett presented to the Dáil in December 2015. GEAI say the current EPA study is discredited and should be stopped as the Oireachtas has been misled about who is undertaking the study. They were led to believe that Queen’s University Belfast was conducting an independent study; however, they have played no part in the research since October 2014. GEAI claims that the majority of the research is being carried out by a group led by CDM Smith, a US pro-fracking consultancy that provides services to the oil and gas industry and Amec Foster Wheeler – an oil/gas industry consultant whose clients include BP, Shell and ExxonMobil to name a few. As a result the anti-fracking group says that this study is not independent as intended and should be stopped immediately. They state that the research “is not looking at whether fracking should be permitted; instead it is looking at how fracking can be rolled out” and “the Irish taxpayer is giving a subsidy of €1.5 million to the oil and gas industry for this study.”
TD Richard Boyd Barrett believes there is no need for an EPA report “to tell us that if we bring up shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, we will add to fossil fuel use and will increase carbon emissions.” He called on the government to “take bold action to prevent further climate change and reduce fossil fuel by banning fracking”. He also pointed to the Government’s recent commitment in a White Paper on energy to cut emissions by up to 95% by 2050 and to achieve this, two-thirds of the world’s known oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground. The Green Party has also indicated its opposition to fracking in Ireland.
The recent drop in oil and gas prices is likely to mean that the drive to develop fracking may be delayed by the oil and gas companies. In order to move to decarbonising our economies it does not make sense for us to drill for shale gas. The Minister for Energy, Mr Alex White TD recently wrote; “I find it hard to envisage a policy decision to introduce fracking, given that we are going for a low-carbon energy system in which oil and gas are gradually curtailed and, in the longer term, eliminated”. While this may well be the view of the Minister, the upcoming election may mean that there will be a new Minister for Energy and also that progress of the Bill to prevent fracking may not progress through the Dáil. Nevertheless, it reminds the Government that many environmental groups, communities and politicians do not want fracking.
For more information on the campaign against fracking in Ireland check the following websites: http://www.frackingfreeireland.org; http://www.goodenergiesalliance.com; http://www.loveleitrim.org; www.notforshale.com.