Government orders review of controversial gas extraction methods
Environmental advisers have been called in to brief government on the impact of the controversial method of gas extraction known as fracking.
Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, has ordered a review to build a picture of the effect of exploration and the scale of valuable reserves that may be under Irish soil.
"At present there is currently very little European experience of the process," he said.
"What is clear is that there is no immediate cause for concern.
"It is worth noting that the department has not received applications for, nor licensed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Irish onshore at this time."
The Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to conduct research and advise the Government.
One European experience is in France where fracking was banned in July.
Opponents, which includes the No Fracking Ireland group, warn of the dangers of groundwater contamination and the release of heavy metals and toxins.
Fracking is mining by drilling shafts into bedrock or rock layers of shale and boring through horizontal fractures. Standard practice then sees a mix of high-pressure water, sand and chemicals forced into the pockets, forcing up the natural gas.
Three licensing options were awarded by the previous government for the Lough Allen basin in Cavan-Leitrim and a region of Co Clare and into Limerick.
An estimated 9.4 trillion cubic metres of gas are under the Allen area, the equivalent of 1.5 billion barrels of oil, and said to be worth 100-120 billion euro.
The department said the licensing options are preliminary and designed only to allow companies to assess the natural gas potential, based largely on desktop studies.
Companies which secured licences are Australia-based Tamboran Resources, the Lough Allen Natural Gas Company and Enegi-Oil.
Mr Rabbitte added: "Exploration drilling, including drilling that would involve hydraulic fracturing, is specifically excluded under these licensing options."
The Government says it will consult with the EPA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service before licences are awarded.