Stages of the Fracking Bill: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=33136&&CatID=59–
First stage: (june 2016) as proposed by Tony McLoughlin
The bill, first stage (June 2016) memo
b3716d-memo text bill second stage
The Bill second stage + The bill amendment
The Bill second stage:
Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank Deputy McLoughlin for his contribution on what is a serious issue in our part of the country. I understand the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is sharing time with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill concerning the prohibition of petroleum exploration and extraction in the Irish onshore. It is right that we debate this matter and properly examine the issues and concerns surrounding potential use of unconventional gas exploration and extraction technology in Ireland, also known as fracking. As a Deputy, I made known my concerns on this issue to the Oireachtas joint committee in June 2015. It has always been my view that our understanding surrounding the use of fracking technologies can be enhanced by scientific examination and peer review. For this reason, I have defended the need for scientific evidence to support our actions. The EPA-led joint research programme into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction seeks to do precisely this.
I am on record as having raised concerns with regard to such matters as long-term well integrity, the potential release of toxic chemicals from the ground as a result of fracking and the significant and considerable potential implications that the use of this technology may have on people in rural communities as a consequence of the spatially dispersed pattern of housing in rural areas. That other jurisdictions, such as Scotland, have moved to exploration licensing and then paused to carry out similar research, as is being undertaken in Ireland, emphasises the need for such research and the requirement for decisions in matters such as this to be taken in a properly informed scientific manner.
It is my understanding that the joint research programme is looking specifically at the geology of Roscommon, Leitrim, Clare and Fermanagh, which is unique and complex in terms of hydrology and geology. For this reason, the EPA indicated that it is very much focused on trying to get as much information as possible to capture the complexity of the geology and hydrology, including seismicity or the potential for earthquakes, which are issues that I have highlighted in the past. All of these issues are addressed as part of this study.
I would like at this point to refer to my commentary to the Oireachtas joint committee on 10 June 2015 in which I said that the results of this particular research programme will be very significant because not only will it have implications in respect of fracking in Ireland but also it will have major implications for fracking throughout the world into the future. I went on to say that this report by the EPA will be extensively quoted, probably for generations, because it will be the litmus test with regard to whether fracking should take place or the conditions under which it should take place not only in Ireland but in Europe and across the world.
I appreciate that there has been some concern with regard to the timeframe involved in finalising the joint research programme and that Deputies would have preferred that it had reported earlier. Since becoming Minister, I have been pressing my officials on the urgency of this report. I have made my views known to Deputies in Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and on the Independent benches who have tabled Bills to legislate on this issue. They are all well aware of my position which is that I would not and will not oppose the passage of legislation in this area. Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill, as currently drafted, proposes to prohibit exploration and extraction of petroleum from three different geological strata, namely, shale rock, tight sands and coal seams. Without going into the complexities of geology or legal definitions, if the current wording of the Bill were to become law, the spirit and intention of the Deputy’s objective may not in fact be definitively reflected in law. The debate for me as Minister was never whether to ban or not to ban fracking but to ensure we legislate in order that the law does what we want it to do. As such, it is my strong view that the work of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment would be considerably aided and advanced by being able to consider the outcome of the shortly to be published integrated synthesis report on the environmental impacts of fracking. Earlier in the week I made the point to the Chair of that committee, Deputy Naughton, that this approach would allow for an appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation to provide the fullest possible basis and understanding for clear and effective legislative proposals.
As I have already said, Deputy McLoughlin has provided an important opportunity today for debate on this subject. There is clearly cross-party concern regarding the potential use of fracking in Ireland. There is no great strategic imperative or agenda on the part of Government to pursue the use of fracking. The primary aim, as legislators, is to ensure we give proper consideration to the issues and evidence, avoid unintended consequences and provide legal clarity. Earlier, in the context of our discussion on the Paris Agreement, I said that today has the potential to be a turning point. I used the word “potential” purposely. I pointed out that agreements may be the prelude to actions but they are not in themselves deeds. Today, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, I am accepting this Bill as another step towards protecting the environment and our future, thus showing that our deeds are our actions.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne): I support the thrust and intention of Deputy McLoughlin’s Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016 as it provides an opportunity for debate on the issue of unconventional gas exploration and extraction, UGEE, in Ireland, more commonly referred to as fracking. I commend Deputy McLoughlin on his production of this Bill. Over recent months since I became Minister of State no one more than he has raised with me the issue of fracking. I also acknowledge the number of questions that have been raised on this issue in the Chamber over recent months from Deputy Clare Daly, Deputy Martin Kenny, Deputy Stanley and Deputy Paul Murphy and the Bills produced by Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett.
Deputy McLoughlin has outlined the genuine public concern about the potential use of this technology in Ireland. These concerns are shared by many of us in this House and by many in our constituencies. In terms of how we address this issue and concerns in this regard, the most common approach is to gather information, conduct research, ask questions, explore options and consider possible consequences. These are the motivations behind the EPA-led joint research programme into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction. It has always been a guiding principle that natural resources in Ireland would be developed in a manner that protects human health and the natural environment.
In taking account of the ever-increasing scrutiny and changing statutory requirements to which licensing and development applications are subject, in recent years my Department has undertaken wide-ranging and innovative environmental programmes, including the review of all existing environmental processes and practices. Such initiatives include our integrated approach to the most recent strategic environmental assessment of the Irish offshore which was overseen by a steering group comprising not only the relevant State authorities but NGOs and industry. This collective approach has resulted in a clear set of environmental compliance requirements which must be met in advance of any statutory permissions for petroleum activity. In this same vein, my Department, in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, has devised a twin programme of acoustic and aerial surveys of whales, dolphins and porpoises and seabirds in the Irish offshore.
[Deputy Seán Kyne: ] The programme, which costs €2.7 million, has been given the title “Observe” and is designed to support the environmentally sustainable development of the Irish offshore oil and gas industry. The core purpose of the survey is to collect data on the occurrence, distribution, density and abundance of these protected species within the prescribed offshore area. The data will serve to better inform both regulators and industry so that in making the most of our marine environment, the protection of rare and threatened species may be assured. It is important to note that this is the first time in the EU that the authority responsible for oil and gas exploration and the authority responsible for nature conservation have teamed up to find answers to these complex issues of mutual concern. The UGEE joint research programme comprises five interlinked projects and it is intended that an integrated synthesis report, which summarises and reaches conclusions on the research programme to date will be completed and published in the coming weeks. It is my full intention to publish that document once received. Hopefully, as the Minister said, that will be in the coming weeks.
As legislators, it is important that we ensure that decisions made with regard to the potential use of this technology are fully informed by the best scientific research and that the most appropriate solutions to issues of concern are formulated and implemented. Our primary aim as a Government is to ensure that we give proper consideration to the issues and the evidence, avoid unintended consequences and provide legal clarity. Throughout this process, no application to engage in unconventional gas exploration has been received in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment nor would any such application if submitted be considered until this process has concluded and there has been time to consider its findings.
As the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has already said, Deputy Tony McLoughlin has provided a forum for debate on this important subject. It is clear that there is cross-party concern regarding the potential use of unconventional gas exploration in Ireland. To reiterate the position outlined by the Minister, the Government has no particular wish to pursue the use of unconventional gas exploration and extraction. It will benefit the work of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to scrutinise the proposals in order to consider submissions and hold hearings on an issue of great concern to many. That would allow the joint committee the opportunity to fully discuss and explore the proposals on a matter of public concern. I commend Deputy McLoughlin for the Bill. It will undergo legislative scrutiny in the joint committee like any other Bill. As the Minister of State whose responsibilities include inland fisheries, I am conscious of the concerns raised by Deputy McLoughlin on the possible impacts of fracking on our rivers and lakes. It is important, therefore, that the Bill is supported by Government and scrutinised in the committee and that a decision is made in the very near future in light of the synthesis report which is due for publication in the coming weeks.
Deputy Eamon Scanlon: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016. The Bill seeks to provide for the prohibition of hydraulic fracking. This is particularly relevant on the day that the House approved the ratification of the Paris Agreement. I am pleased that the Government withdrew its amendment today. If the amendment had been pushed, Fianna Fáil would certainly have voted against it because the only thing it would have done was kick the can down the road for another 12 or 18 months. It is very important that we deal with this issue now. This is a conversation we need desperately to have immediately.
Fianna Fáil opposes the use of fracking as outlined in our energy policy paper published in April 2015. We demand a ban on any fracking activity in Ireland. The risks to our natural environment posed by the pumping technique and the fate of the fluids used in the drilling and fracturing process cannot be stressed enough. A simple question we have to ask is how many of us have actually been involved in or lived in an area with a high level of gas or oil development. Fracking would completely change the agricultural, rural and tourism character of our landscape to one that is industrialised. People are genuinely concerned about public health, drinking water, air quality, climate change, social harmony and the social fabric of our communities and so am I.
The concerns of the people have been validated. On Tuesday, the Sustainable Water Network published an independent research report on the impact of fracking for shale gas on water resources. The report concluded that the carrying out of fracking and other shale gas activities in Ireland is not consistent with achieving and maintaining good water quality and a healthy water environment and should not, therefore, be permitted. The potential massive risks to our drinking water from fracking are simply not acceptable, nor is the possibility of serious damage to our reputation as a high quality food producing nation. That is not worth risking. It is not in our interest to tramp on people’s rights and values. France, Bulgaria, Scotland and Germany have all banned fracking in response to these risks. Fianna Fáil is not willing to subject communities to any potential risk which might undermine the integrity of the water supply or the natural environment in which we live.
In the UK, it appears the Government intends to allow large-scale fracking operations across the country, which will end a previous moratorium on shale gas production put in place after fracking caused two small earthquakes near Blackpool in 2011. They seem to have forgotten about all that. Our Government is awaiting the outcome of the EPA study before deciding on a definite policy. We have serious concerns about the independence of the study into fracking because of the involvement of the consultancy firm CDM Smith. CDM Smith is avidly pro-fracking and has advised on exploratory gas extraction projects in the USA and Europe. This study does not have the makings of an objective, independent analysis of the environmental risks and impact of hydraulic fracturing. It fails to address the fundamental issues attached to whether Ireland should extract shale gas, but is rather concerned about how to get it out of the ground.
Fracking is a massive issue in my constituency. It is a rural issue. Sligo, Leitrim, south Donegal and east and west Cavan are regarded as constituting one of the most promising locations for fracking because of the region’s geology. Supporters of the technology say it is safe and could bring jobs to parts of Ireland like my constituency rather than emigration and economic difficulties. They say it would have a direct economic impact on the region. However, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, who pioneered hydraulic fracturing, has serious concerns himself about where the technology is going and as to its economic merits. In an interview with The Anglo-Celt in 2011, Dr. Ingraffea said with reference to the Lough Allen basin which spans counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim that it was highly unlikely that there could be an economically productive shale gas well of the scale commonly being used in the USA that used only water and sand. In the USA, fracturing has been lauded as the promising gateway fuel producer, but fracking is a short-term, limited industry whose potential impact has been vastly overstated, in some cases by 96%. It cannot be undone and will permanently damage agriculture and tourism, the two pillars of the Irish economy. With reference to the rhetoric that the majority of fracturing fluids remain underground in the fracking process, I again quote Dr. Ingraffea who said the industry is fond of saying that most of what they pump down, stays down. However, all shale gas wells continue to produce fracturing fluid and brine containing heavy metals for their entire lives.
One has to be very careful about this. There are serious questions we need to ask ourselves. How are we going to address climate change if we take fossil fuels out of the ground, combust them and release CO2 into the atmosphere? Can we afford to remove billions of litres of water from our water cycle forever? If we do not look at the way industry developments are projected, there is a real chance that irreparable harm will be done to water resources and the environment. In New York state, there is a common saying which I recently came across to the effect that fracking fractures communities also. The mounting scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that permitting fracking poses significant threats to the air, water and health and safety of individuals and communities. It poses the risk of intractable and irreversible problems and exacerbates climate change. What we get out of all of this is nothing. We lose what we have and the reason we live here. Given the lack of any evidence that fracking can be done safely and the wealth of evidence to the contrary, I consider a complete and outright ban the only responsible decision to take.
Deputy Joe Carey: I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill, which will lead to a ban on fracking in Ireland. He has been to the fore in this debate and I want to congratulate him on drawing up the Bill and securing the support of the Government to ensure its successful passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, said recently that climate change is the defining challenge of our time and it is during our time that the obligation exists for us as a nation to take action. Fracking is a highly carbon-intensive industry and obligations to reduce our carbon emissions have been placed upon us by national, EU and global agreements. We must remember that Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill is introduced in the context of the Paris Agreement 2016, which commits us to keeping global warming to below 2° Celsius. In order to do the latter, it is estimated that 60% to 80 % of known reserves of fossil fuels must remain in the ground. Fracking and the extraction of fossil fuels from Ireland have no place in a low-carbon energy future and it would be irresponsible if we were to try to open this industry now.
This Bill does not seek to simply ban the process of fracking, rather it seeks to ban the act of taking oil and gas out of the ground where usually fracking would take place. This is because of the ever-changing and ever-advancing nature of the technologies used in the fracking industry and the recognition that legislation relating to specific technologies would likely be out of date in very short time.
In recent weeks, I have received a large number of representations from constituents right across County Clare. Significant local and global impacts are associated with the fracking industry. Fracking threatens public health, the environment, tourism and farming and contributes to climate change. County Clare depends very much on the agriculture and tourism industries. If fracking is not banned, there would be a detrimental impact on these industries in County Clare and other counties such that in which Deputy McLoughlin lives, Sligo, and also Roscommon and Leitrim.
Fracking is damaging to people, communities, the land and groundwater. There has been a surge in the exploitation of shale gas by fracking. This is due, in part, to the fact that fracking, in combination with advanced directional drilling techniques, has made it economically possible to extract oil and gas from unconventional sources, such as shale, tight formations and coal beds. However, this method poses risks. According to a report published by David Healy in 2012, concerns raised in the media and, to a much lesser extent, in scientific literature relate to potential environmental impacts resulting from fracking. These include earthquakes – for example, there was a mini earthquake in the UK near Blackpool as a direct result of fracking – the pollution of groundwater and, subsequently, the potential pollution of drinking water; emissions of greenhouse gases, including methane, and leakage of contaminated drilling waste fluid from storage ponds. The Sustainable Water Network, SWAN, is an umbrella network of 26 of Ireland’s leading environmental NGOs. On 25 October it published a report which found that fracking for shale gas is incompatible with good water quality and recommended its prohibition in Ireland.
I compliment Deputy McLoughlin on introducing the Bill. I congratulate him on securing the support of Government and look forward to cross-party support for the Bill as it passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: There is absolutely no doubt that this is a controversial issue because one side sees it as environmentally unsustainable, with very negative effects, and the other will tell us about the money that can be made. I understand that €120 billion was quoted as being the potential value of fracking in the north west. It is great that we are having this debate and that reports and surveys are being carried out. The area represented by Deputy McLoughlin is being targeted as one of great potential.
It was interesting to read about the UK because successive Governments there voted in favour of fracking and then suspended it five years ago when drilling near Blackpool caused earthquakes. Even though the moratorium was lifted four years ago, many fracking applications have been turned down. A recent survey shows that there has been a significant drop in public support for fracking. Only 70% of those surveyed support the process. It is reckoned that the drop in support coincides with the increasing awareness of the process, the dangers involved and the damage that could potentially be caused. However, the UK Government is pushing ahead and claims it will boost jobs, the economy and energy security. The relevant Minister has overturned a decision of a county council so that a fracking site in Lancashire can go ahead. I hope this will not be the case in Ireland.
We know what the Bill involves. It will prohibit hydraulic fracturing to obtain shale oil and gas. We know it is a method that relies on high-pressure water to fracture rocks which contain deposits of ore. Despite a number of countries having banned fracking, elsewhere there has been an increase because, as the research tells us, it is claimed that advanced directional drilling techniques make it possible to extract oil economically. We know the risks and concerns. I do not think we can separate the fracking debate from that on climate change because there is no doubt that fracking damages the natural environment. Many studies and research have shown the impact on water bodies. Leaks from the machinery used also lead to water being contaminated. There is enough contaminated and polluted water in the country without adding to it.
Fracking has other potential environmental impacts. These include earthquakes, the leakage of contaminated waste fluid and air and noise pollution, not to mention, as Deputy McLoughlin said, health. SWAN, which comprises 26 of Ireland’s leading environmental NGOs, reports that fracking for shale gas is incompatible with good water quality and recommended its prohibition.
The supporters of fracking tend to be big businesses with powerful lobbies. Of course, they are advocating the economic benefits. I have read about some cases in America. There are significant levels of protest but extraction companies are targeting small rural townships. Some of the techniques that they are using are very alarming. They include coercion, economic incentives, pre-buying houses and land through shell companies, sponsoring local businesses and contributing to schools and infrastructure, all of which activities raise serious concerns.
When we debated the ratification of the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change, much of the debate involved fossil fuels. We know fossil fuels and emissions are the main cause of global warming. I referred to CO2 emissions in metric tonnes per capita. The figure for Uganda is 0.1, but in Ireland it is 10.5. Fossil fuels account for two-thirds of the emissions that are causing climate change. We know that the Bill is very important in the context of that debate.
Using hydrocarbons will make it more difficult to reduce emissions in the energy sector and will lead to an increase in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. We know 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain underground if the Paris Agreement goals are to be met. Based on the greenhouse gas emissions projections released by the EPA last March, we are unlikely to meet our 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets for the non-emissions trading scheme sectors like agriculture, transport and waste. Fracking will further exacerbate that and undermine our ratification of the agreement.
We know that the White Paper states the decision will be made in the context of the aim of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050. My final point relates to fracking, CETA and TTIP, the investor state dispute settlement. The ISDS lets foreign companies sue entire countries for alleged loss of future profits. A $250 million damage suit is being pursued as a result of Québec’s moratorium on fracking. Québec has yet to decide whether fracking can be conducted safely under the St. Lawrence River but it cannot even have time to study the impact of fracking without having to compensate a corporation. We have to be very careful with trade agreements and our engagement with companies. The bottom line is that we should have nothing to with fracking because the negatives far outweigh any possible positives.
Deputy Catherine Connolly: I never thought that I would reach the stage where my inspiration and renewed faith in the political process would come from a Fine Gael Deputy. I have to place on the record that it does. I hope to be continuously surprised. I thank Deputy McLoughlin for giving me that hope.
I listened to and participated in the earlier debate on climate change and will not repeat what I said then.
[Deputy Catherine Connolly: ] Notwithstanding the sweet words from the Minister, Deputy Naughten, I worried that Ireland was not going to comply with our obligations under climate change legislation. Deputy McLoughlin has given me new hope. I do not know how he has succeeded in getting his colleagues on board so that the Bill should move on to the next stage, but well done to him. If we are serious in complying then without a doubt they are inextricably linked. Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill, which seeks to ban fracking, and our obligations and objectives which must be met under climate change legislation are inextricably linked together. I believe he accepts this. We are not meeting our objectives. Earlier today I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has stated Ireland is not meeting its objectives, that we are going to face fines as a result and that the cost of dealing with the failure – and in cleaning up – is even more significant. If we are to meet our objectives it is quite clear that 80% of fossil fuels must remain under the ground so it makes no sense to go looking for more fossil fuels. In that context, I cannot understand how licences were given in the first place. I understand that three licences have been given. When the Minister comes back to the House to respond I would like to know the status of that. It is extraordinary how the licences could have been given in the absence of legislation, the absence of regulation and the overwhelming scientific evidence that this practice is extremely dangerous for the environment, for groundwater and for our health. I will keep my contribution short and simply thank the Deputy. I hope the Bill passes through with the speed it needs. I hope we come back here every six months – not for more general debate and not for more Sarah Palin-type of debate – regarding the progress we must make in complying with our objectives under the climate change legislation.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I commend Deputy McLoughlin on bringing this Bill forward. It cannot come a moment too soon. We need to make a definitive decision to ban hydraulic fracking, any prospect thereof and any other form of unconventional gas and oil extraction. I am pleased Members are now debating this Bill. It appears the Bill will pass through this Second Stage and will move on to Committee Stage. Deputy Catherine Connolly and another Deputy alluded to the fact that this seems to be quite a considerable achievement, given there were efforts to bring forward an amendment to delay the Bill for what would have been one year or 18 months. That it sought to delay the decision which this Bill aims to achieve, to ban fracking, is a worrying indication of the Government’s reflex when it comes to this matter. It has been a strongly-felt concern of mine and others for quite some time. It moved me, it prompted Deputy McLoughlin, and importantly the people on the ground – in the Deputy’s case the people in his constituency – who are concerned about the impact there. It also concerned the environmental movement in the State. I am pretty certain the people who helped me to draft the Bill I brought forward last December were the same people who drafted Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill. The wording is pretty much the same with the exception that he has, rightly, updated the Bill to refer not just to fracking specifically but to any other form of unconventional efforts to extract shale, gas or oil from the different geological layers. That is an important update which I believe may have been prompted by events in Antrim. A company operating there, InfraStrata, was discovered to be engaged in pursuing shale gas in the region but claimed it was not fracking. I and others raised this issue in the House a while ago. What InfraStrata was doing represents the same threat as does fracking to the quality and safety of our water supplies. It is a good move to update our legislative effort to prohibit anything that could damage our environment or our water. Our concerns increased strongly with the whole question and nature of the EPA report. A few of us raised this at the environment committee in December of last year. It was highlighted to me by some environmental groups that two of the consultants who were drawing up many parts of the report on the health and environmental impact for the EPA were, incredibly, CDM Smith and AMEC, both of which were either existing or previous members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and were major consultants to the fracking companies. In my opinion and that of many others, there was direct conflict of interest. These people, with a history of being pro-fracking and who were up to their necks in promoting the interests of the gas and oil companies, were, incredibly, doing the assessment for the EPA on the water requirements for fracking, the effects in terms of faults and fractures, the possible effects of earthquakes, the air monitoring, the effects on ground and surface water, regulations and best practice for fracking projects, environmental impacts and so forth. It was absolutely preposterous. That level of conflict of interest renders the EPA report completely worthless and completely corrupted. It could not do anything other than raise serious hackles of suspicion as to what was the actual purpose of the report.
At the environment committee, again prompted by some of the environmental activists, I asked the EPA if we would know at the end of the report whether fracking represented a danger to health. Incredibly, the EPA said no. At which point I asked what was the point of the report if at the end of it we will not even know if fracking affects our health. This came at just the same time when the New York State Department of Health had concluded – on the sound basis of the precautionary principle and the evidence available to it – that fracking was not safe for the people of New York. The evidence suggested that fracking could have a serious impact on the health of New Yorkers. It decided that the minimum requirement was that the precautionary principle had to apply and that no fracking should be allowed if there was any possibility that it could represent a danger to human health. Incredibly, when the New York State Department of Health can make a decision like that, our EPA is preparing a report that will not even tell us, at the end of a long and protracted process, if it might affect our health. What was the point? One suspects the point was the agency was not looking to see if fracking should be banned. It was looking to construct a report, with the assistance of two companies up to their necks in oil and gas, to show how we can make way for fracking and how it can be done in a safe way, rather than assessing whether it is safe from an environmental point of view of water safety and quality. It is certainly my suspicion that this was the case. It is fantastic that we have got this far. It is a tribute to the campaigners from Deputy McLoughlin’s area and from the Border areas North and South and to environmental campaigners around here.
[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: ] On the day we ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change, the idea that we would do anything other than ban the further extraction of gas and oil, with all of the attendant dangers, is bonkers. There would be no justification for it. It would fly completely in the face of any commitment to deal with climate change. If we were to do anything other than bring forward this Bill to impose the ban through the Houses as fast as we possibly can, the commitment would be exposed as a total sham. Let that be the end of it. We must protect the precious environment of the people in those areas, as well as, more generally, water and so on.
Like Deputy Tony McLoughlin and with the assistance of the same people, I was working on another Bill to update the law in this area. The additional element to my draft Bill which I could table as an amendment to this Bill on Committee Stage is that we would do the same to ban fracking offshore. If onshore fracking and unconventional exploration for gas and oil pose potential unknown health hazards, as well as seriously damaging environmental hazards, it has to be true offshore also. The same ban should be imposed on fracking and unconventional exploration offshore. I will argue this point on Committee Stage of this Bill or in proposing a separate Bill to include it in the law.
The Oireachtas has jurisdiction over only 26 of the counties on the island. The ban also needs to be imposed north of the Border. If fracking can go ahead north of the Border, it will adversely affect not just those in the North but also those in Deputy Tony McLoughlin’s county, as well as others. On the next Stage we should include a provision in the Bill to the effect that it will be the policy of the Government and the State in negotiations or discussions with our Northern counterparts or Britain that there should be a prohibition on fracking and unconventional extraction north and south of the Border and that Ministers and the Taoiseach or anyone else will have to raise and campaign for it when negotiating with with our Northern counterparts.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill and commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin from Sligo, without whose work it would not have got this far. It is important that the praise from all round the House for him is given. Often we are pitched on opposite sides of debates and issues that cause division, but that is not so in this case for those throughout the north west. Some of the campaigners are in the Visitors Gallery and I welcome them. It is a victory for the campaigners that we see the Bill which was proposed by Deputy Tony McLoughlin before us. It is with great pride that we on this side of the House support it. I also pay tribute to former Deputy Michael Colreavy of County Leitrim. He scarcely spoke in the House or to the media without mentioning fracking. I know that his successor, Deputy Martin Kenny, will be no different in his time in the House. It is important that this be acknowledged as Mr. Colreavy certainly played his role in getting us to this point.
Many of the points have been made about the science behind this issue by Deputy Tony McLoughlin, in particular, in his extensive address. Other points were made by Deputy Eamon Scanlon and others. I have some concerns. First, I am pleased that the Government withdrew its amendment. We would have voted against it and it is important that it was withdrawn. Notwithstanding the fact that it was withdrawn, I am mildly concerned about some of the language used by the two Ministers. Deputy Tony McLoughlin is not providing us with a forum for debate or a forum to talk. He has proposed legislation for which we intend to vote. The Bill is unequivocal and unambiguous: in seeking to ban fracking. That is what we want to achieve.
While the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, has left the House for now, perhaps on his return, either he or the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, if replying on his behalf, might clarify why he mentioned pre-legislative scrutiny. My understanding is that when we vote on the Bill next Thursday, we will be voting to send it directly to a select committee. It will proceed to Committee Stage, to be followed by Report and Final Stages in the House, and it will be the law of the land.
Like Deputy Eamon Scanlon, I, too, have huge concerns about the EPA investigation into these matters. That it is using CDM Smith to advise or inform its deliberations is a little like getting the fox to advise on the security of the henhouse. It does not inspire much confidence. In advance of publication of its report, I have serious doubts about its credibility. One wonders how many reports from all over the world we need to read on this issue. We do not know enough about fracking. In 300 years time there might be a safe extracting method, but for now there is far too much doubt. There is far too much evidence that clearly shows us that there are health and environmental concerns. This is of concern in the north west of the country, in particular, where farming, tourism and people’s lifestyles are very much under threat.
We will not be able to return in 100 years time and say we are sorry, that we got it a little wrong and will go back and reverse the effects of climate change. We will not be able to say sorry about the earthquakes in the north west or that we will clean the water table. We will not be able to do that because it will be too late. To those who say here is a bunch of loonies from the north west who do not want to see development, we do. The potential of our tourism and agritourism resources can be realised. Renewable energy sources off the coast are another example. I would love to see the focus of speculators on them rather than on something that is fundamentally unsafe. Countries throughout the world have already banned it, while others are thinking of doing so. The obligation is on us to ensure we ban it.
The foundation of the Bill is that the community in that part of the country does not want fracking to take place and they are entitled to be consulted. In the past seven to ten years, since it was first mooted, we have heard time and again from the community in the area. It has stated it does not want to see it happen, that it is afraid of it and that its fears are absolutely justified, based on research available throughout the world.
A forum for debate is not what Deputy Tony McLoughlin is providing. He has proposed legislation. Deputy Eamon Scanlon has said it also, but from the Ministers’ contributions, it appears that the Government’s position is to wait and see what the EPA has to state and that perhaps there is a way. I do not care what the EPA concludes. It is using a company that is a strong advocate of fracking in other parts of the world. I used the analogy of the fox and the henhouse. It is an appropriate one to use. I hope that following the vote next Thursday we will move quickly to refer the Bill to the select committee and that if there are improvements that can be made such as those suggested by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, we will deal with them on Committee Stage. I will not, however, celebrate or commend the Government, notwithstanding my absolute commendation for Deputy Tony McLoughlin on the leadership he has shown on this issue, until such time as the Bill is passed. That is what the people want and deserve and it is the only logical, reasonable and prudent approach a nation such as this can take when we are shown so much research from all over the world that indicates that we really do not know the outcome when it comes to these processes. When in doubt, leave it out. I commend the Bill and Deputy Tony McLoughlin for introducing it.
(1) Should a private member’s Bill pass its second reading, it shall be referred to the relevant Select Committee appointed pursuant to Standing Order 84A.
(2) Select committees to which private members’ Bills are referred shall undertake detailed scrutiny of the provisions of such Bills, having regard to guidelines agreed by the Working Group of Committee Chairmen, and shall report thereon to the Dáil prior to Committee Stage consideration: Provided that the Committee may decide in relation to a particular Bill that detailed scrutiny is not necessary.
Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: As my colleagues indicated, the Fianna Fáil Party supports this Private Members’ Bill, the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016, which proposes to prohibit the practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. I thank Deputy McLoughlin for bringing the Bill before the Dáil.
Fracking is controversial for many reasons. The practice can be unsafe and not properly regulated. It is also a dirty process that produces a dirty energy. Numerous countries are moving away from fracking and we should learn from them. We should not be willing to subject our communities to any potential risk which could undermine the integrity of the water supply or the natural environment in which we live.
Various reports have been published which indicate that the pumping technique and the fate of the fluids used in the process of drilling 1.5 km into the ground pose potentially significant risks to the natural environment. The risks fracking poses to drinking water are simply not acceptable. Our high quality food industry is very important and the risk that serious damage could be done to our reputation as a quality food producing nation is not worth taking.
While I understand exploration has taken place, no commercial licences for fracking have been issued in the Republic of Ireland and the Government is awaiting the outcome of an EPA study, expected later this year, before deciding on a definitive policy. As my colleagues outlined, Fianna Fáil has concerns about the independence of the two-year study into fracking because of the involvement of the consultancy firm, CDM Smith, which has advised on exploration of gas extraction in the United States and Europe. The company is working in conjunction with a number of institutions, including University College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast and the British Geological Survey, to compile a series of reports into fracking to be published next year.
It is of particular concern that while the Bill would ban fracking in the Republic, the fracking process could be used across the Border and this could interfere with water courses here. This issue needs to be addressed.
Opposition to fracking has been standing policy of the Fianna Fáil Party, as outlined in our energy policy paper published in April 2015. I am keen to support communities in their demand to ban fracking activity in Ireland.
Mar fhocal scoir, táim buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Tá sé léirithe inár bpolasaí fuinnimh, a d’fhoilsíodh i mí Aibreáin 2015, go bhfuil Fianna Fáil go láidir in aghaidh an fracking agus beimid ag tacú leis an mBille seo, mar a luaigh mo chomhghleacaithe anseo. Is ábhar mór buartha é do phobal timpeall na tíre go mbeadh aon bhaol ann don timpeallacht nó dá sholathar uisce ón tslí go ndéantar an fracking seo. Ní chóir dúinn aon phobal a chur i mbaol. Braithim gur maith an rud é an cosc seo a bhrú ar aghaidh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill and compliment Deputy Tony McLoughlin on showing the initiative to bring it before the House. It is well known that the Fianna Fáil Party has opposed hydraulic fracturing for many years. Our approach to the issue was set out in an energy policy paper published in April 2015. For many years, I and many party colleagues at local government level and in the national Parliament have publicly expressed the view that hydraulic fracturing of shale for the purpose of generating gas is not in the best interests of the country and should be subject to a total ban. We take this view for a number of reasons, principally in recognition of the fact that Ireland is a small island which does not have the vast tracts of unused land available to other countries where fracking is a popular method of extracting minerals.
We also have people living in dispersed communities who make a living from farming or tourism and depend on the groundwater resource to live and manage their businesses. It is also needed to allow society to operate in a cohesive manner. Having researched this issue and read a great deal about fracking, the practice has the potential to render vast tracts of land completely unusable and uninhabitable. The places being spoken of as locations for fracking, for example, parts of counties Leitrim and Clare, are very picturesque and beautiful and generate a great deal of tourism activity. It is not only the case, therefore, that these regions have farming enterprises and people living in them who depend on the groundwater resource.
Without much scientific research, it becomes clear that fracking as a methodology of extracting gas is not compatible with this country, including the way in which people live, where they live and the enjoyment generated from our communities. A ban on fracking seems to be the most obvious thing on earth.
I am disappointed by the approach the Government has taken to Deputy Tony McLoughlin’s Bill. I was taken aback when I received notification from Deputy Eamon Scanlon and my party’s research office that an amendment to the Bill was being proposed that would function, in a classic sense, as a mechanism for filibuster. We speak of new politics and the need to recognise the role of backbench Deputies and their capacity to introduce legislation. We changed the way in which Private Members’ business was done because heretofore when a Deputy introduced a Bill, the Government would indicate a willingness to accept it before allowing it to remain on Second Stage in perpetuity. This structure was changed to provide that Private Members’ Bills had to be addressed within a certain period of time. Yesterday, the Government attempted to delay the reading of the Bill until some time next year to allow a series of reports to be completed. We discussed what the Environmental Protection Agency is doing and previous speakers from my party raised serious questions about the credibility of the company that has been commissioned to carry out work in this area. It does not speak to an independent process that the company which will effectively decide whether we go down the hydraulic fracturing route and whether fracking is a good method already supports fracking elsewhere.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, recognised the impact fracking would have on County Roscommon and so forth. However, he also indicated we must take a scientific approach and await the report before deciding what we will do. I want the Bill to be passed and my party will assist Deputy McLoughlin in every way possible in that regard. If we want to improve the legislation or make it more appropriate to meet the needs of the entire community, let us do so. In line with commitments that all Deputies have given at local authority and national level, it is appropriate and right, however, that we bring this process to an end.
The issue is not only the damage hydraulic fracturing will do to the environment. Earlier, the House discussed a motion on signing up to the principles agreed at the COP21 summit in Paris. We know Ireland will not meet its commitments in respect of 2020 and we also know what we will have to do by 2030, 2050 and beyond. We must make a very clear statement that we want to phase out the use of carbon as a method of generating energy. For as long as there are cheaper methodologies for extracting oil and gas from the earth, the carbon industry will continue. We must decide to phase out oil, even if we continue to extract gas and oil from existing operations. We must stop searching for more oil and gas and focus instead on alternative energies because of the impact carbon emissions are having on the environment. We all recognise the impact that diesel is having on the lives of many people and the number of deaths attributable to the diesel fumes people inhale. At issue here is not only the impact of fracking on groundwater or the capacity of people to live in a particular area, but also the impact of continuing to seek new methods of sourcing a resource that has a detrimental impact in terms of warming the earth’s atmosphere. This too needs to be taken into account and should be our guiding principle from now on.
[Deputy Timmy Dooley: ] We have to look continuously at alternatives to the use of carbon for transport, heat and energy generation. We are working towards those targets. It would fly in the face of all of that if we were to say that if this is okay scientifically, and if someone could come up with another methodology of ensuring it would not damage the groundwater, it could all be done out of sight of everybody. If all of that can be resolved, we still should not be doing it because of the impact it has on the warming of the earth’s atmosphere.
Deputy Eugene Murphy: I want to back up what has been said by most others, including Deputies Dooley, Scanlon, Moynihan, MacSharry. I am full of praise for Deputy McLoughlin, as I told him privately. This is a commendable Bill However, on the basis the Government was preparing an amendment, we must be on standby and watch what is going on. When we think about it, why put in an amendment? It was just to push it down the road and then tackle it again in 12 or 18 months time. Nevertheless, the amendment has been withdrawn, which I acknowledge.
When I was mayor of Roscommon County Council in 2011 and 2012, it took a decision to ban fracking in County Roscommon. One councillor brought forward a motion which was unanimously accepted. This will have a huge effect on the environment and the lives of people in north Roscommon and, of course, in Leitrim and Sligo. There is widespread opposition to fracking in many parts of the world, and countries like France have banned it.
If one looks at a map of Ireland, one will see it is dotted with lakes and rivers. It is an island country. We do not have vast tracts of land. In my estimation, fracking would have detrimental effects on this island. People laugh off the two earthquakes in Blackpool in 2011 which are now linked to fracking but it is a very serious issue. If Britain moves ahead and allows fracking all over that nation, it will live to regret it. We must think of the tourism infrastructure we have built up and are building up in places like Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo, including Yeats country and the River Shannon. Lough Key Forest Park attracts 80,000 visitors to north Roscommon every year. That would all be decimated by allowing fracking to take place in our nation.
Most of all, it is about the health of our people through the possible contamination of water sources. We are spending much time on this and the EU is saying to us that we must get our water sources right. We must have clean, good water for people but fracking could have a detrimental effect on that.
I want to support the other speakers and Deputy McLoughlin in particular. We need to be constantly aware of what is going on in this arena. If we are not, we will live to regret it. Fracking is bad and we do not need it. We have to go after other sources of energy, and there are other sources of energy out there, but certainly not fracking.
Deputy Brian Stanley: I welcome the Bill. Sinn Féin has been resolute in opposition to fracking across Ireland, North and South. We have campaigned against it in both parts of the island, and even at EU level. It is a dangerous and destructive practice and it needs to be banned entirely on the island. We recognise the risks of fracking and the negative climate, environmental and health impacts involved. It is completely unacceptable.
Earlier this year, Deputy Martin Kenny and I introduced a Bill to ban fracking. This followed on from the work done by the former Deputy, Michael Colreavy of Sinn Féin, who worked tirelessly in the last Dáil to have this banned. We are happy to see Deputy McLoughlin is following our lead and we hope he can bring the rest of his party with him and, indeed, bring the whole Dáil with him and bring this to a successful conclusion.
Ireland needs to focus on environmentally friendly renewable energies and ban destructive exploration like this. We have consistently maintained that this method of extraction should be banned, given its poor record internationally, for which the evidence is there. Therefore, we will be supporting the Bill to ban it in this part of the island. However, it is crucial that we have an island-wide approach in dealing with the issue. The threat posed by fracking does not stop at the Border. I commend the work carried out by Sinn Féin representatives in the North, who have worked to try to halt any potential fracking projects in the Six Counties. We hope other parties up there that have a different view will change their mind.
Some of the proponents of fracking have made claims it will boost job creation and economic development. On the contrary, we believe the practice is one of the biggest threats to Ireland’s most successful industries, namley, agriculture and food production, which employ hundreds of thousands of people. The high quality of produce from tillage and livestock will be put at serious risk from fracking were we to go down this road. Tourism also employs thousands of people. With visitors coming to Ireland for the scenery, the quality of the environment and the landscape is a huge selling point internationally. Millions of people flock to Ireland from around the world to experience that, to sample the clean countryside and to enjoy the natural environment, such as in the north-west, but also in counties such as my own county of Laois. This contributes billions to our economy. It would be crazy to jeopardise this industry for the short-term gains that might be had from fracking.
The proponents of fracking do not take into consideration the potential dangers that are associated with fracking, such as water contamination, the use of toxic chemicals in the process and what is done with the wastewater afterwards. We have read reports of what happened in other parts of the world. To take the United States, the use of fracking has been the cause of heavy contamination of drinking water with dangerous gases and chemicals, which is clearly of serious concern in terms of public health and safety. Scientific research at Duke University, published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, revealed clear evidence of direct water contamination from the oil used in hydraulic fracking, describing the problem as widespread and persistent. The Associated Press reported last year that the data from leading oil and gas producing states in America showed that more than 175 million gallons of contaminated wastewater was spilled from 2009 to 2014 in incidents involving ruptured pipes, overflowing storage tanks and other mishaps, in some cases even the deliberate dumping of waste. There were some 21,000 individual spills and, given it is suspected these numbers are underestimated, the scale of the problem is enormous.
The contaminated wastewater kills nearly all vegetation it touches and renders crops and farmland unusable. Given our sensitivity to flooding in the last few years and the increasing magnitude of the floods due to climate change, it would be ludicrous to expose aquifers and water tables to such dangerous contamination that could even cause further damage. Can we even imagine the damage that would be caused, not just to vegetation and livestock, but also to water supplies and towns and villages throughout the countryside? Any short-term profits from gas extraction would be dwarfed by the environmental clean-up costs and cost of dealing with the contamination of water.
To continue to advocate for such a destructive practice is Donald Trump economics or Tea Party economic development. Our party wants to grow the number of sustainable, long-term jobs, and I know Deputy McLoughlin is very concerned about that. The jobs in tourism and agriculture have been and will be there. We want to hold and increase the number of such jobs, and diversify out into other areas of sustainable development. We cannot allow short-term thinking and short-term gain to interrupt that.
[Deputy Brian Stanley: ] We have an opportunity to put this issue to bed once and for all. I welcome the fact that the Government has withdrawn its amendment. It is good that it has happened. It is partly attributable to people’s conscience and also the fact that there are many campaigners, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, who have campaigned against fracking, raised the issue and educated the public thereon. It is timely this evening, given the ratification of the Paris Agreement, to give a positive indication that we are beginning to move away from fossil fuels by banning the fracking process entirely. It is imperative that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuel.
As I stated, the evidence is well documented. We do not want to be kicking the can down the road. The Government has done a lot of that. We do not want to see it happen on this occasion so it is timely that we start taking the courageous steps and stand up for the interests of the public, environment and generations to come. We have the opportunity and need to do so immediately. The Bill has to go to the committee for scrutiny, as outlined by the Ceann Comhairle. For my part as Sinn Féin spokesperson on this matter and as a member of the committee, I will certainly be working with the other committee members to accelerate the process as quickly as possible. I urge the Government not to use this as a delaying process. We need to move on with this. There is no reason to delay and every reason to put down a marker and move ahead with all speed to protect our environment, sustainable jobs and our water sources.
Deputy Martin Kenny: In 2011 we all got to know about this issue. In the dying days of the last Government, there were options for licences granted to two companies, one being Lough Allen Natural Gas Company and other being Tamboran Resources. Those of us on Leitrim County Council at the time became very aware of the whole issue of hydraulic fracturing. A film entitled “Gasland” was circulated and many, certainly public representatives, were invited to view it and see what was going on in many other parts of the world where this practice is taking place. It was horrifying. We saw footage of fracking in vast desert areas, including many places in the centre of the United States. Compare these regions to where we live, namely, the drumlins of rural County Leitrim, Sligo and the mountainous areas of Fermanagh and such places. There is a total difference. To imagine this kind of process could be employed in our communities is absolutely frightening. I commend in particular all the people who stood up and fought for this legislation. Leitrim County Council dealt with motions to ban hydraulic fracturing. While we got them passed, they were not passed unanimously. There were those who were convinced by lobbyists that it was a matter of progress and jobs. It is absolutely tremendous that we are here today in the national Parliament expecting unanimous support for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Credit for this is due to the ordinary people on the ground who did so much trojan work to make this happen and bring this day about. Some are in the Visitors Gallery this evening.
I congratulate Deputy McLoughlin on the Bill. As Deputy Stanley stated, we introduced similar legislation earlier in the year. Whichever Bill came up first was going to be supported by everyone in the House. That is the way we need to move forward on this issue. It is an issue that is about the ordinary people standing up to the corporations and big business and saying people’s lives and the environment matter and that ordinary people deserve a future, a future that cannot be bought in pounds, pence, billions of euro or promises of some big future nobody will ever see. We have all seen that the hydraulic fracturing business and the big corporations around the world do not employ ordinary people from the local communities. They bring in teams of experts from abroad, many of whom move around the world as cheap labour to be employed on the fracturing pads. When they dry out a place, they move off to somewhere else, leaving behind an economic and environmental mess. We do not want that; we want to ensure that it does not happen.
I am glad the Government has withdrawn its amendment. There are many aspects of the amendment that were very dangerous. Reference was made to the report for the EPA carried out by CDM Smith. CDM Smith is a company that is backing the gas industry. On the cross-Border element, Queen’s University Belfast and UCD have both withdrawn because they recognised the report was going nowhere and that it was totally inappropriate.
We need to say very clearly that when this legislation gets to Committee Stage, it will be developed and expanded to ensure it is as strong as possible to guarantee the future of all our people and that we will not leave the door open such that another Government or set of circumstances will ordain a similar or other form of exploration may be permitted in order to take the gas out of the ground. Regardless of whether it is there and whether it is accessible or safe, if we are concerned about our future, ending climate change and taking ourselves in a different direction, we must consider a new way of doing things. We must put all our energy and efforts into renewable energy and renewable sources of developing future economies. That will not happen if we continuously depend on fossil fuels. I refer not only to onshore fuels but also offshore fuels, as stated earlier.
Great credit is due to Deputy McLoughlin and all those who have brought this Bill forward. As I stated, I was a little worried about some of the content of the Government’s amendment, particularly the line on adverse effects on the utilisation of the State’s natural resources under the State’s energy policy. The latter should not be about fossil fuels. We need to set this marker. Our doing so begins tonight. I commend in particular the many people who have done so much trojan work in recent years since we fist saw “Gasland”. They made this day happen. I give due credit to Deputy McLoughlin.
Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: I commend Deputy McLoughlin on bringing this Bill forward. Today is one on which ordinary people and politics are at one for the simple reason that, over recent days, politicians on all sides of the House, other than those who wanted to drive forward with amendments, stood up and were counted. They stood with Deputy McLoughlin to ensure his Bill would be passed unanimously in the House. Anybody who has seen what has gone on in America will note the destruction resulting from hydraulic fracturing.
Let me refer to Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon, the lakelands district. The River Shannon takes 20% of the water of the landmass of Ireland. There may be so much money available from fracking but one should consider the devastation of tourism, farming and of people living in the areas affected. It could not even be contemplated. Why are we even carrying out an EPA study at present? Why are we putting money into this if today we are to finish off hydraulic fracturing once and for all?
I welcome what Deputy Martin Kenny said. I urge that a Bill such as this be brought forward in the North, where there is power-sharing, to ensure we bury hydraulic fracturing for good throughout the Thirty-two Counties. If what Deputy McLoughlin has done today were done in the North by Sinn Féin’s counterparts in power there, it would be very helpful.
I commend Deputy McLoughlin. This is a good day for politics in the House in that everyone is united in sending this Bill forward. We need to ensure there is no hiccup from now on and that there will be no effort to push in something else later. This Bill must be driven on to ensure, once and for all, that everybody will know where he or she stands. Over the weekend, every Deputy got plenty of e-mails on hydraulic fracturing. Those who mounted the campaign in all parts of the country need to be commended. This is a day on which ordinary people stood up and were counted.
Deputy Mick Wallace: I too welcome the Bill. We all accept at this stage that the dangers of fracking are beyond dispute. It is a barbaric method of fossil fuel extraction. The impact on the surrounding environment, water table and wildlife is devastating. On top of all this, gas is probably not the clean fuel the Government and energy corporations are spinning it as. Fracking gas is even worse, with a lifecycle emission imprint as bad as that of coal.
[Deputy Mick Wallace: ] The Government, unfortunately, is wholeheartedly in favour of an imminent provisional application of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, which could lead to huge cost to the State if we introduce legislation to ban fracking to protect our country’s people, water and environment and tackle climate change.
It would not be unnatural to be sceptical about the Government’s intentions, but even if we leave the glaring issue of its enthusiasm for CETA aside, it is no harm to consider its position on climate change. An obvious start would be the abomination of the sweetheart deal awarded to Shell for the Corrib gas project and the Government’s ongoing annual issuing of licences to extraction corporations in the Atlantic margin oil and gas exploration licensing round. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has been very clear that we must stop drilling if the world is to have even a mild chance of avoiding climate disaster. The Government’s lack of concern in this area is pretty worrying.
The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, has quoted debt instruments with 55 different corporations that extract, transport or burn fossil fuels, amounting to a market value of €123 million, and quoted equities with 241 corporations that export, transport or burn fossil fuels, amounting to a market value of €205 million. There are also significant investments in the world’s largest tobacco corporations, namely, Philip Morris, Reynolds American and British American, mining corporations, aviation corporations, weapons companies and mercenary armies such as Halliburton, the destruction of palm oil plantations and chemical corporations such as Monsanto. The list is endless. Let us get serious and consistent.
Sadly, the Government also forces the Irish people to subsidise dirty energy through the public service obligation, PSO, levy but refuses, according to some unknown logic, to subsidise commercial or domestic solar energy production, offshore wind farms or domestic wind turbines.
Then there was the publication of the Government’s strategic blueprint for investment in transport. The Government clearly sees no place for rail transport in its future transport plans. It goes as far as to argue that “[u]nlike car ownership and use, public transport usage is generally adversely impacted by rising incomes”. This is an absurd position backed by zero evidence. Now we hear of plans to do away with the Dublin to Rosslare rail service, which would leave Wexford with 10 km of operational railway line. Does the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have any idea what it is doing? Does the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport agree with his predecessor’s assessment that Wexford people are so affluent that they no longer need trains? Does he really think that the incomes of Wexford people have risen so much during all these years of austerity budgets that they have all gone and bought cars all of a sudden? If we are to care about climate change, address it and honour our responsibilities, will we even start following the recommendations of the European Commission? Will we stop investing in people who are destroying the planet? Will we take this seriously or will we play games with it? That is what we want to know.
Deputy Clare Daly: We must be very clear. That so many of us are here on a Thursday evening that we cannot even get full slots in which to speak and that everybody from every party is speaking out is a testament particularly of the people power in the regions affected, but also environmentalists throughout the country who have made fracking so politically unpopular that nobody in the House can say he or she would give any credence to the practice. That represents a shift because for years we have been raising questions on this issue and have been told the Government is worried and that we should let it do the research. We have before us tonight a Bill that says “No”, we want to ban fracking and we do not need to do research. The research already initiated, as other Deputies have said, is highly discredited, its terms of reference were inadequate and all the peer reviewed studies conducted subsequent to the establishment of those terms of reference firmly show this practice to be one that right-thinking citizens do not want.
The Government withdrew the amendments it had planned to table, but what the Minister said was very like what was in the amendments. If we are serious about banning fracking, there is no need for these studies to go on and there is no need to wait. We must see it through. The key point of tonight for the environment and for future generations is that the House is united, games are not being played here, this is an historic day and we want to take fracking off the island. However, we should not be in any way complacent because international trade agreements such as CETA and so on, given that licences have been issued, potentially put this State in a precarious position. I very much welcome the Bill and I am delighted that it is moving forward. It is a good day, but I issue my last words as a warning. I would not put away the placards quite yet if I were the communities.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: This is an historic day. It is an historic day for the environmental movement because it is a real victory. I thank Deputy Tony McLoughlin for helping to make it happen and everyone else here who spoke in support of what will be a very radical, important change that will affect our country now and into the future. It is a victory for the local people in Leitrim in particular. I do not want to draw anyone out but I refer to the likes of Johnny Gogan from Clare and Cinema North West. The film “Gasland” was mentioned earlier. It is about such people just getting up and doing things, talking to neighbours, working out what is possible and having the cop-on to realise that the way to win this is to go positive and to recognise that if we love Leitrim, we do not want to tear it apart with the plan of fracking.
Yesterday, a very good and very interesting presentation was given by the organisation, Sustainable Water Action Network, SWAN, which set out the evidence. It set out the real, significant problems, pollution problems that come with fracking for gas, the clear understanding that leaks occur, the difficulty of the geological systems, the casing not always working and the fact there is a percentage of leaks and polluted water which cannot be dealt with. It also set out that even our own European legislation and other environmental directives are not sufficiently in place to protect us against the pollution that would and could occur. For all these reasons and for those we mentioned here, the study that has been carried out does not have credibility and would not be accepted. It may be published in the coming weeks, but I do not think it will influence one way or other the legislative process we are starting today.
The Ceann Comhairle was right to set out the process which we will now have to take in committee. I am a member of the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment and I look forward to working with all Deputies to see if we can add legal certainty and get the legislation absolutely right. However, fundamentally the purpose of a Second Stage debate is to set out the overall intent, and the overall intent of this House could not be clearer. We want to ban fracking and we will do so. It is an historic moment for the environmental movement because it is one of the first big wins on the issue of climate. We know that if what we said earlier about signing the Paris climate treaty, which we must do, is true, it calls on us to keep four fifths at least of fossil fuels in the ground, starting with shale gas. The Bill we are agreeing is a small but important part of that.
It is of international significance. My Green Party colleagues in the UK are trying to get a similar Bill introduced in the Houses of Parliament and will look to this Bill and cite it. The Keep It in the Ground community in North Dakota will look to the messages from Eagle’s Rock in Leitrim going out to Standing Rock in North America, and they will take hope from this decision. When it comes to the committee hearing, we have plenty of examples and evidence from other areas which have introduced similar bans in New York, California, Germany and Spain. We are not short of analysis nor of reasons for which to make this fundamental decision. We will not frack for gas. We will not even start to do so.
Other organisations such as the Good Energies Alliance in Leitrim realise that there is another side to this coin. Not only are we ridding ourselves of the potential pollution that comes from fracking, it also poses the question of how we will create jobs, employment and wealth in the likes of Leitrim. We must do that. Today should be an historic day when we start on that direction, using the natural resources, which are rich in Leitrim, in farming and forestry and in capturing wind, solar, biomass, hydro and other power supplies. That is the real implication of this vote. As well as our not polluting, we must start turning to the better alternatives that exist. I have confidence that the same people who led the campaign to get this Bill through will take a really positive role in stepping forward in loving a prosperous, clean and secure Leitrim and Clare and every other place that has been threatened by this fracking potential.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne): I thank all the Deputies for their contributions. Listening to some Deputies one might believe that anyone who has ever stood up in this House advocated or spoke for fracking, which I do not believe is the case – certainly not in my time here.
Deputy McLoughlin produced the Bill and similar Bills were previously produced by a number of other Members of parties and Independents, including Deputies Martin Kenny, Stanley and Boyd Barrett, and the former Deputy, Michael Colreavy. Everyone, with the possible exception of Fianna Fáil, has produced a Bill. Despite having got support last week from Deputy Dooley on behalf of Fianna Fáil for an amendment, we have decided not to proceed with the amendment mainly because of the advice of Deputy McLoughlin who had concerns. I commend him on introducing the Bill.
I will touch on a few issues – I could not possibly go through all the contributions. Deputy Connolly asked about licensing. Three licensing options were awarded in 2011 for a limited work programme reviewing existing data and rock sampling but no drilling. In 2013 due to public concerns, the then Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, and the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, placed a moratorium on licensing. Two licensing option holders sought an exploration licence and the Department advised that it could not consider their applications pending the completion of the EPA study and a decision taken by Government as to whether fracking could proceed. There has been no change since then.
There were a number of queries regarding the appointment of CDM Smith. This consulting company was appointed following an open procurement process. CDM Smith is the lead consultant of a consortium comprising technical and academic expertise. The whole EPA study is overseen by a steering committee comprising members of the EPA, An Bord Pleanála, the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Authority and my Department.
Deputy Eamon Ryan is right that the synthesis report will be published in a number of weeks. If the EPA-led synthesis report recommends that we should not proceed with fracking or that there are considerable risks, will Members opposite similarly repudiate it, as they have done in advance of it being published?
Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill has afforded the House an opportunity to debate in a healthy and robust manner the genuine public concerns with regard to the potential use of fracking technology in Ireland. As both the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have already said, it has always been the view of Government that our understanding surrounding the use of fracking technologies can be enhanced by scientific examination and peer review.
The EPA-led joint research programme into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction is seeking to do precisely this and it is my intention to publish this report as soon as it is available. It is important to reiterate that throughout this process, no application to engage in unconventional gas exploration has been received by my Department, nor would any such application, if submitted, be considered until the research process has concluded and there has been time to consider its findings.
I appreciate that there has been some concern with regard to the timeframe involved in finalising the research programme and that Deputies would prefer that it had reported earlier. I also would prefer if it had reported earlier. However it is important to ensure that decisions made with regard to the potential use of this technology are fully informed by best scientific research and that the most appropriate solutions to the issues of concern are formulated and implemented.
As the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has outlined, Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill, as currently drafted, proposes to prohibit exploration and extraction of petroleum from three different geological strata, shale rock, tight sands and coal seams. Without going into the complexities of geology or legal definitions, if the current wording of the Bill were to become law, the spirit and intention of the Deputy’s objective may not in fact be definitively reflected in law. I do not think he or anyone here would like to see that.
As such it is also my strong view that the work of the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Natural Resources would be considerably aided and advanced by being able to consider the outcome of the shortly to be published integrated synthesis report on the environmental impacts of UGEE. Obviously, the decisions will be for this cross-party committee on which the Government does not have a majority. This approach would allow for an appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation to provide the fullest possible basis and understanding for clear and effective legislative proposals.
As both the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have already outlined, the primary aim as legislators is to ensure that we give proper consideration to the issues, avoid unintended consequences and provide legal clarity. I therefore join the Minister in urging the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Natural Resources to scrutinise the EPA proposals in order to consider submissions and hold hearings on this issue of great concern to so many people. This would allow the committee the opportunity to discuss fully and explore the proposals on this matter of public concern. Everything is a function of the committee itself. We are accepting the Bill. I again commend Deputy McLoughlin on bringing the Bill to the floor of the House.
Deputy Tony McLoughlin: As a humble Government backbencher, I had concerns about the amendment. Following consultation with my colleagues the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, it was removed, which I welcome. I am sure it is of great satisfaction to all my colleagues.
Earlier today I spoke to the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Hildegard Naughton. Committee Stage of the Bill will be taken in that committee and I know it will have the support of those who spoke this evening.
I thank the contributors from all sides of the House who debated the Bill and for their kind words of support for it. This support means a lot to me personally and it means a lot to the people whom I represent on this issue. I am delighted to have received cross-party support for the Bill this evening.
After many years of hard work and engagement with local stakeholders on this issue, I am delighted to have been able to present my anti-fracking legislation in the Dáil. The fracking issue is one of major national importance and, as such, the Oireachtas should be dealing with Bills like this. I am even more delighted that now my Bill looks set to be accepted by the Government and will pass on to Committee Stage of the legislative process.
I have been extremely concerned for a long time about the potential damage that fracking could do to our environment, our communities, our waters and our health. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for a clear and unequivocal position on the exploration and extraction of petroleum from shale rock, tight sands and coal seams in the Irish onshore and our internal waters.
It is a very simple Bill and was designed this way for a reason. Its aims are crystal clear. We do not want fracking in our communities in Sligo, Leitrim, Clare and many counties in other parts of the country that were mentioned. We do not want Government to permit this process to occur and we will not stand by while this could be allowed to occur.
I sincerely thank the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, for accepting the Bill. I thank the people who travelled for this evening’s debate from Sligo, Leitrim and many other places and who are here in the Gallery. I acknowledge the hard work they put in in helping with the Bill. I thank people such as Kate Ruddock and Eddie Mitchell who have been key in preparing the Bill.
I will be lobbying hard now to ensure this Bill comes before the committee at the earliest opportunity. As I said, I have already spoken to the committee Chairman, Deputy Hildegard Naughton. Some of the Deputies who spoke in this evening’s debate are members of that committee. I wish them well in the committee.
Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee
That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 141.