Pro-fracking company asked to carry out safety study

CDM Smith has track record on contentious gas extraction method in the US and Poland

Anti-fracking protesters at a demonstration in Co Fermanagh last year. Photograph: Boyes/Press Eye.

Anti-fracking protesters at a demonstration in Co Fermanagh last year. Photograph: Boyes/Press Eye.

 

The lead company employed to carry out a study on fracking in Ireland is a pro-fracking organisation involved in the controversial gas extraction method in the United States and Poland.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was commissioned by the Government to undertake a two-year study into fracking. It will examine if fracking can be conducted in a way that does not cause significant environmental pollution.

In August last year the EPA, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) awarded the contract to a consortium led by CDM Smith.

CDM Smith (Ireland) Ltd is a subsidiary of CDM Smith based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The consortium includes University College Dublin, the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

In December, CDM Smith vice-president Kevin Molloy criticised the decision by New York governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State. “This [decision] is one that was based on emotion and not necessarily science,” he told Engineering News-Record.

Risk assessment

The company sponsored the Shale Gas World Europe conference in 2013, held in Warsaw.

Then Poland country manager Magdalena Pavlak-Chiaradia, said: “Here we’ve been working on shale gas projects from the risk assessment standpoint all the way through to permitting, design and most recently construction of well pads in Poland. Now, we are also moving into the Ukrainian market and trying to sell our services and our experiences here in Poland.”

On its website, CDM Smith says that it has worked with Marathon Oil for the “completion of environmental, geotechnical, design and construction management services for its first proposed exploration well pad development in Poland”.

In 2013 Marathon withdrew from Poland, saying reserves of shale gas were not what it had expected.

When questioned by The Irish Times about their track record on fracking, CDM Smith (Ireland) said: “Since our founding in 1947, CDM Smith has served both public and private clients with excellence, objectivity and integrity. We stand behind our work and reputation and that of our staff as professional and ethical consultants to our clients.”

In response, the EPA said six tenders were received and CDM Smith was awarded the contract in August last year.

The evaluation panels comprised 27 existing and retired personnel from organisations such as An Bord Pleanála, the departments of the environment on both sides of the Border and the HSE.

The EPA said the evaluation panel found that the tender led by CDM Smith “provided an excellent response”.

In addition, CDM Smith Ireland Ltd had to return a declaration of conflict of interest document which stated it had no “conflict of interest in connection with the contract; a conflict of interest could arise in particular as a result of economic interests, political or national affinities, family or emotional ties or any other relevant connection or shared interest”.

Mistake

New York State anti-fracking campaigner John Armstrong of FrackAction said the decision to appoint CDM Smith was a mistake. “CDM Smith is a company that is avidly pro-fracking. That is not the makings of an objective, independent analysis of the environmental risks and impacts,” he said.

Mr Armstrong visited Leitrim earlier this month with a delegation of three anti-fracking campaigners from New York. They were involved in the successful campaign to stop fracking in New York State.

Mr Armstrong said the only scientific evidence that was credible when it came to fracking was from peer-reviewed material and that some 400 studies had found that fracking was a threat to the environment and to human health.