Bill banning onshore fracking passed by Dáil

No offshore ban as Richard Boyd Barrett accuses Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil of ‘political machinations’

A fracking facility in Preston:  Ireland  will join four other EU member states – Scotland, France, Germany and Bulgaria – and regions of a number of countries in banning  fracking on land on land. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

A fracking facility in Preston: Ireland will join four other EU member states – Scotland, France, Germany and Bulgaria – and regions of a number of countries in banning fracking on land on land. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

 

Ireland has moved a step closer to banning onshore hydraulic fracturing after the Dáil passed a Fine Gael private member’s Bill, one of the first to pass in the Dáil in this administration to ban the practice.

A number of environmental groups including Love Leitrim watched proceedings from the visitors’ gallery and applauded when the Bill was passed.

The legislation now goes to the Seanad and if passed, the State will join three other EU member states – France, Germany and Bulgaria – and regions of a number of countries in banning the practice on land.

But People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett who wanted the ban on the practice extended offshore, accused Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of “political machinations”.

Mr Boyd Barrett claimed the two parties had made a political decision that they did not want the ban to extend offshore “because our friends in the oil and gas industry would not like that”.

Withdraw amendments

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin called on People Before Profit, Independents4Change and the Green Party to withdraw their amendments on banning fracking off-shore to ensure the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016 was passed.

Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said his party was withdrawing its amendment so as not to hold up the legislation. “The immediate task is to try and secure a ban on fracking within the 26 counties”. He said it would be a mistake to hold the legislation up for months or years with an offshore ban.

The Green Party which last week accepted the legislation should deal with the onshore ban, introduced an amendment to ban offshore fracking. All amendments to ban offshore exploration and fracking were defeated.

Mr Boyd Barrett said it was a historic development that a ban would be imposed but “we see no reason why the arguments that apply to onshore fracking would not apply offshore”.

He said: “The toxic, polluting nature of the chemicals involved in fracking, which we have now accepted potentially pollute our water and impact on human health and would be damaging to the onshore environment, all apply to offshore.”

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said environmental observers in California had obtained a list of chemicals used at 12 offshore fracking sites off its coast. “Almost all the substances cause damage to organs in the human body, and there are claims that fracking offshore can increase the risk of an oil spill as well as air and water pollution,” he said.

“It might not affect the people in County Leitrim but it will affect the people on the Galway coast if we damage the waters with something like that out in the Atlantic.”

Protected from damage

The Bill was introduced by Fine Gael Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin to ban in the Republic, the practice more commonly known as fracking which involves water being pumped at high pressure into rocks to split them and release gas and oil deposits.

TDs across the House praised Mr McLoughlin for the Bill which he said would ensure the environment and community of north west Ireland would be protected from damage of fracking.

He said the passage showed that “new politics” could work and the passage of his legislation was a major moment for politics because private members’ Bills rarely got beyond the early stages.

Mr McLoughlin warned that if fracking was ever permitted to occur it would have serious impacts on counties like Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Clare.

But he said the issue of offshore fracking did not have pre-legislative scrutiny and the scientific evidence was not yet there to deal with offshore bans.

Roscommon-Galway Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy said Roscommon County Council was the first local authority to vote to ban fracking and the decision by the Dáil was a recognition of how new politics could work.

Offshore issues

Mr Murphy said Leitrim and North Roscommon communities started this campaign and it was vital to pass the legislation and then consider offshore issues.

Green party leader Eamon Ryan said “we need to stop extracting fossil fuels out of the ground” and insisted “we do not need to go offshore” because there were plenty of renewable resources available onshore.

He said the legislation was important particularly when unconventional hydraulic fracturing was a huge threat and at a time when US president Donald Trump was considering turning his country into a “rogue state” on environmental issues.

Minister of State Sean Kyne said the entire debate about the legislation had been on onshore fracking. He said they should look at the issue of off-shore fracking in a separate Bill, bring in experts on all sides and have a full debate.

“Don’t try and ban offshore oil exploration on the basis of ‘back and forth’ here without a proper debate,” the Minister said.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Martin Kenny said it was a “world target” not to issue, renew or extend any licences for onshore or offshore oil or gas exploration but they had to be sensible about “what we can achieve”. He said the issue at hand was hydraulic fracturing onshore. “There isn’t fracking offshore yet.”