We must make serious decisions on fracking – Irish Examiner

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The issue of fracking will have to be addressed sooner or later.

Hydraulic fracturing — or ‘fracking’ — is the name of the game, and money is what it’s all about; that is, the objective is to get gas and oil from the ground in an area that is not amenable to usual extraction methods, and then to convert that oil or gas into money.

All over Europe, countries are being asked to stand up and decide whether they will allow it or not. In many locations, and among many groups, the word ‘fracking’ is a dirty word. Unfortunately, there are many reasons for that bad name and it’s all self-inflicted.

The techniques the industry uses to separate the oil and gas from the ground are prone to abuse. In simple terms, water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground under high pressure, the shale rock is fractured, and it releases the oil and gas.

That there would be pollution and contamination seems a reasonable conjecture.

It has been claimed it can be the cause of disease and death of animals and humans. Fracking companies have argued that there is no direct link between their actions and subsequent water pollution and even death. However, the incidences are such as to be worrying.

So, why is this issue hot-to-trot right now?

There are several reasons and they all relate to the instability in most of the major sources of oil and gas. The so-called Arab Spring in the Middle East has resulted in even worse regimes taking control.

Closer to home, we have Russia’s Putin exercising his muscles by annexing Crimea and trying to do the same in eastern Ukraine. Most of Europe relies heavily on Russian gas.

Russia has intimated that continuous imposition of sanctions will result in gas supplies being cut off to Europe and there is a long cold winter in the way.

The US is close to being self-sufficient for oil after being dependent on the Middle East for a long time. Much of its new-found oil supplies and reserves are in areas that are, or will be, the subject of fracking from oil-bearing shale sands.

We, being dependent on imports for around 90% of our energy needs, are somewhere between a rock and a hard place. How far will we go to ensure some greater level of self sufficiency? That is the $64,000 question.

Already experienced foreign companies are looking at the prospect of fracking all over Europe. Applications are in for test boring, both in Ireland and in many parts of the UK. In the UK, these companies are offering to bestow their largesse to all and sundry in order to be allowed to firstly, do some test boring to determine volume and viability, and secondly, to start fracking.

Once a commercial find is announced, the pressure to go ahead will explode.

In the UK, the companies have major supporters including, apparently, prime minister David Cameron. Promises that everything will be done properly to protect the environment will flow like confetti at weddings.

However, the portents are not good. One report suggests that, in the UK, there are three times as many who support fracking to those who object to it. However, a 13 page report by the UK Department of the Environment was censored 63 times, with even the author’s name redacted. The view in the UK is that something stinks to high heavens.

We are going to have to make serious decisions on this subject very soon. We need to make them with our eyes wide open.

If we are to allow fracking we need to have serious penalties that will automatically kick-in for any default by the companies.

A base line study will be needed to determine the status of the broader environment, prior to any fracking. Any subsequent change should be seen as a direct result of fracking without any leave to appeal.