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Fracking: the endgame? Legislation for a ban to be debated on 27th October
On Thursday, 27th October the Dáil will discuss the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016. This article highlights the issues surrounding the bill and traces the history of community action against fracking in Ireland.
It’s been a long five years for the communities whose lives and livelihoods remain under threat from fracking. Now, on Thursday, 27th October (15.30-17.30), the Dáil will discuss the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016. Could this signal the end of the state's dangerous dalliance with this extreme form of fossil fuel extraction?
The campaign has come a long way towards success thanks to the collective action of communities in the licence areas- which includes Leitrim, Sligo, south Donegal, west Cavan, Fermanagh and county Clare- and solidarity from groups and communities around the world.
Fracking is a dangerous form of gas extraction that involves the pumping of thousands of litres of toxic chemicals, sand & water into the ground to create explosions that fracture shale rock & release the pockets of gas trapped inside it.
The bill is being brought forward as a “private member’s bill” by Tony McLoughlin, the Fine Gael TD for Sligo-Leitrim. While McLoughlin is a government TD, this is not government legislation. The bill will require considerable cross-party support for it to succeed.
The bill names and prohibits exploration and extraction from coal seams, shale rock and tight sands. This is a comprehensive list of the specific geological formations in which oil and gas are found in Ireland. By specifically prohibiting drilling in these formations, the bill effectively bans all forms of onshore fossil fuel extraction. This paves the way for the energy transition to renewables which is urgently needed in the face of climate change.
The McLoughlin bill comes at a time when there is a critical mass of opposition to fracking growing both inside and outside of the Dáil. Sinn Fein's Martin Kenny published another bill calling for a ban on fracking in June, while the Greens and People Before Profit are making similar moves towards their own legislation. Fianna Fail have also made noises of opposition. The party's Leitrim TDs, Mark McSharry and Eamon Scanlon, signed a pre-election pledge for a fracking ban.
A demonstration is expected to take place on Kildare Street outside the Dáil on Thursday, 27 October. Further details will follow shortly.
Fracking: a tale of corporate capture of democracy...
The fracking fiasco began in Ireland in 2011 when Minister Conor Lenihan (FF) awarded exploratory licences to oil & gas companies in the north-west to Tamboran Resources & to county Clare. Lenihan later lost his seat in the 2011 general election but quickly swung through the revolving door & joined the board of Irish-owned fracking company San Leon Energy.
Since the awarding of the licences, community efforts have prevented any exploration taking place. In July 2013, Tamboran Resources attempted to set up a test drill rig in Belcoo Fermanagh, where they also hold a licence. The company arrived before dawn and set up fencing around a quarry site where they planned to site the rig. Quickly, hundreds of community members arrived at the site at soon a cross-community non-sectarian camp was established at the gates.
Community campaigners highlighted how the company had no Environmental Impact Statement or planning permission. After three weeks of collective action at the site it was clear that the community would not allow the drill on site and Northern Irish minister for the environment, Mark H. Durkin, halted Tamboran’s plans by requiring them to undergo the proper planning process.
The EPA study
Meanwhile, the Irish government put a “moratorium” on fracking in the south while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carry out a study on the gas drilling process. The EPA awarded the contract for this study to a consortium of companies that included CDM Smith, a US pro-fracking consultancy & Amec Foster Wheeler, another consultancy with links to the major oil and gas companies.
When the terms of reference for the study were made public it became clear that the study was not asking “should we frack?” but rather “how can we regulate fracking when we do it?” This amounted to an enormous failure of the EPA to protect the public interest.
Evidence of fracking’s detrimental risk to public and animal health is by now overwhelming. This case has clearly been made by the Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland group (see link below). In addition to the immediate environmental risks, it is also clear that fracked gas is amongst the most dangerous for climate change and the extraction of shale gas is entirely incompatible with environmental protection or action on climate change.
With the study being far from independent, a campaign quickly began to stop this industry-biased research which would be used to make public policy decisions on fracking. Public meetings, petitions, actions at the Dáil and media reports highlighted the study’s biases, embarrassed the EPA and forced the then minister, Alex White (Lab), to cancel the study after its first stage.
The EPA has still not published the first stage of the botched report which is a desk based study of existing research that is expected to run into the hundreds of pages.
Links to legislation
Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016:
Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill:
Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland: