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Fracking could have harmful effect on the environment and humans - Oireachtas Committee Report

The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is not convinced that hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ could proceed in Ireland without having harmful effects on the environment and on human health.

In a report published today, 12 April 2017, the Committee says it feels that it would be irresponsible to allow Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE), more commonly known as fracking, projects or operations to proceed in Ireland, especially when there appears to be a lack of knowledge in relation to deep geological and hydrogeological conditions in the two case study areas under consideration - the Northwest Carboniferous Basin and the Clare Basin

Consequently, it is not possible to predict what geological effect these projects/operations may have on the areas in question, the Committee says.

In relation to air quality, the Committee notes that the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that further research into the potential cause-effect relationship of UGEE activities and actual health outcomes requires further research.

The Joint Committee notes that, according to the the research conducted by the EPA, there is reason for concern in relation to potential impacts and mitigation measures. In this regard, the findings demonstrate that there is potential:

• for surface chemical spills and leaks during UGEE operations;
• that fluids associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations, together with natural gas constituents that are present or released, represent potential sources of groundwater contamination;
• that accidental spills of flowback and produced water can be expected from UGEE-related activities and, although the overall risk of impact from transport-related spills of flowback and produced water is considered to be low, these could result in an environmental impact; and
• that uncertainties are liable to remain in relation to the quantification of long-term greenhouse gas emissions.

While the Joint Committee acknowledges that the impacts above may never occur, to mitigate the possibe impacts occuring would require a vigorous regulatory regime, and even then this may not prevent some of the impacts from occuring.

In relation to the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016 which was referred to the committee for scrutiny, the Committee is concerned that the Bill may not achieve its objective with its current drafting, if enacted, and makes a number of recommendations:

• In certain sections, the terminology of the Bill should be revised so as to ensure that the objectives of the Bill are achieved.

• An enforcement mechanism should be included in the Bill. This would include the penalties/offences associated with the contravention of this Bill, if enacted. It should also include a provision granting responsibility for the enforcement of the prohibition to a specified body.

• Any potential drafting deficiencies in the Bill may be best addressed during the Committee Stage debate of the Bill. The Joint Committee also believes that the Minister, with the assistance of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to the Government, could propose amendments to rectify any drafting problems by drafting a suitable amendment at either Committee or Report stages of the Bill.

• The scope of the Bill should be expanded to take account of other activities, such as those that use geothermal technologies, which may be used to access shale gas through other means.

Committee Chairman Hildegarde Naughton TD said: “The Dáil referred the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016 to the committee on 27 October 2016. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment referred the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led Joint Research Programme on the Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on the Environment and Human Health to the committee on 13 December 2016.

“Having considered all the evidence offered, 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 committee also feels that further investment in exploitation of fossil fuels would in all likelihood reduce investment in sustainable sources of energy, mindful of Ireland’s commitments in relation to climate change mitigation.

“Consequently, the committee supports the Bill, subject to any necessary technical amendments to make the Bill effective. I would like to thank and commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin for sponsoring the Bill, and I have no doubt that the Bill, when enacted, will have positive effects on Ireland’s progress towards a decarbonised society, while also ensuring that the public are not subjected to the potentially harmful effects that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing.”

Read the report here: http://bit.ly/2oodO9e