Monday 18 December 2017

Labour rules out fracking - even if firms say it is safe

Anti-fracking signs posted on a farm outside Manorhamilton, in Leitrim. Photo: Frank McGrath
Anti-fracking signs posted on a farm outside Manorhamilton, in Leitrim. Photo: Frank McGrath
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Fracking will not form part of the Government's long-term energy plans even if it is proven to be safe, Energy Minister Alex White has said.

Writing in today's Irish Independent, the minister says he finds it "hard" to see a situation whereby drilling for oil and gas would be allowed, given the country is moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.

His comments come as People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett joined with Friends of the Earth and An Taisce called for a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

It comes as the debate on shale gas ramps up across Europe, with countries including the UK, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic keen to exploit the technology.

Fracking involves sinking wells up to 2km below the surface of the earth to access pockets of shale gas trapped in rock.

Large volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to create cracks in the rocks, which frees the trapped gas, allowing it to flow to the surface where it is captured and sent for processing.

Opponents say fracking is linked with earthquakes and environmental damage, including water pollution, but the companies involved say it is safe if properly conducted.

Potential reserves of shale gas have been identified in the north-west and Clare Basin, with estimates suggesting as much as 2.2 trillion cubic feet of shale gas could lie in the north east, which could be worth billions of euro.

Mr White's comments come after the Government's White Paper on Energy noted that a study from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is examining possible health and environmental impacts, would not be complete until next year. The paper says the study will help "inform policy", but that a decision would be taken in the context of reducing use of fossil fuel and a move towards a low-carbon economy.

But the minister said that it was difficult to see how fracking would tally with a move towards a reduction in fossil fuel usage.

"It is reasonable to ask whether it makes sense to contemplate the introduction of additional carbon-based energy sources in this context," he says.

"The EPA is currently examining the potential environmental and health impacts of fracking. This is important work, not least because policies must be based on the best available scientific evidence. But, even if it is found to be safe, I find it hard to envisage a policy decision to introduce fracking, given that we are going for a low-carbon energy system in which oil and gas are gradually curtailed and, in the longer term, eliminated."

His comments are a strong signal from the Labour Party that it will not accept any proposals to frack for oil and gas if returned to office.

Among the counties potentially affected include Clare, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh. Proponents say if tapped, shale gas could meet national needs for 12 years.

Irish Independent

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