DRILLING for natural gas located in bedrock deep below the surface will not be allowed until a number of scientific studies are completed.
The Government has ruled out the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, until environmental chiefs complete in-depth research into the possible effects on the environment, Natural Resources Minister Fergus O'Dowd said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to commission and fund three separate pieces of research to determine if damage will be caused by companies hoping to find gas buried underneath the soil.
Enegi Oil is looking for gas in the Clare Basin, while Tamboran Resources will explore parts of north Leitrim. The third company, Lough Allen Natural Gas Company, is seeking the gas in the Lough Allen basin in the north west.
Fracking involves pumping a water-rich fluid at high pressure into rocks below the surface, believed to contain natural gas, causing them to crack. The fluid contains sand which keeps the fractures open, and the gas is taken up to the surface.
However, there are concerns that the method can cause widespread pollution, particularly to water sources.
Three companies have been given licences to explore for gas, Tamboran Resources, Lough Allen Natural Gas Company and Enegi Oil. However, none have started drilling. If they decide to go ahead, they will require an additional permission and have to prove it will not cause environmental damage.
The EPA has already carried out some work in the area, which found while the process did not pose "significant environmental risk", there was potential risks to ground water from "poor well design or construction".
It will shortly commission additional studies, and has asked for the public to suggest the terms of reference to be given to researchers.
The first study will involve a geological study which will determine the impacts that fracking may have on groundwater and bedrock.
The second will involve research into seismic impacts, whether tremors, earthquakes or subsidence, and the third will deal with drawing up regulations in the area. All must be completed within 20 months.
Mr O'Dowd said fracking would not be licensed until the work was completed.
"Until the EPA study has concluded and there has been time to consider its findings, the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling will not be authorised in Ireland," he said.