Adopt energy policy now to prevent importing of fracked gas, urge campaigners

New Fortress Energy has said it is pushing ahead to develop LNG terminal in Shannon Estuary

Anti-fracking campaigners have called on the Government to follow through on commitments to prevent development of new fracked gas importation terminals in Ireland, by promptly publishing a promised energy policy statement.

Controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are still planned for the Shannon Estuary and the port of Cork, they have warned, and if constructed would import fracked gas from the US into Ireland.

The programme for government states: “We do not believe that it makes sense to develop LNG gas import terminals importing fracked gas. Accordingly, we shall withdraw the Shannon LNG terminal from the EU Projects of Common Interest list in 2021. We do not support the importation of fracked gas and shall develop a policy statement to establish that approach.”

It further commits to ending all licences for the extraction of fossil gas in Irish waters.

“The Government’s action to follow through on these pledges represents a key litmus test to show how serious the new Government is on climate action,” according to the environmental campaigners who have published a road map for legislative change required to prevent development of fracked gas industry in Ireland.

“An Irish policy ban on fracked gas imports was agreed in the programme for government, meaning a ban on fracked gas imports from all sources such as via LNG terminals, and the interconnectors must now be dealt with in the upcoming policy statement,” said Johnny McElligott of Safety before LNG.

‘Significant environmental effects’

The policy must make it clear that any energy plan to develop LNG infrastructure in Ireland “would have significant environmental effects and should be submitted to high-level assessment and strategic environmental assessment”, he added.

The policy statement is time-sensitive because of an imminent new planning application by Shannon LNG, slated for September, he said. If it did not materialise, the project would only be subjected to local environmental impact assessment, “having gone from a silent policy to project approval without the prior high-level strategic assessment that an explicit energy plan statement on LNG infrastructure development would oblige”, Mr McElligott claimed.

The US company behind Shannon LNG indicated in May it is preparing a fresh planning application for the project as it awaits a High Court verdict on the validity of its existing permission in an action brought by Friends of the Irish Environment.

New Fortress Energy has told US authorities that regardless of the outcome, it is pushing ahead with plans to develop the LNG terminal at Ballylongford in the Shannon Estuary.

LNG and fracked gas in Ireland’s energy mix were not conducive to meeting obligations under the Paris Agreement, said Aideen O’Dochartaigh of Not Here Not Anywhere. “We have heard countless testimonies from communities from all over the world about the health, human rights and environmental impacts that these industries have.”

‘Fuel of the past’

Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth said fossil gas was "a fuel of the past", but a number of regulatory steps were necessary to fully implement commitments by the Government. "We have set out these steps in our briefing [document] and would ask the Government to follow our recommendations as a matter of urgency," she said.

"We want Ireland to transition to clean energy. We stopped fracking in our community, so we cannot stand by and allow Ireland to participate in the exploitation of other communities, including those in Pennsylvania where this fracked gas would come from," said Roisín Keegan O'Rourke of Love Leitrim.

If a policy statement was published swiftly, it would make Ireland a leader in the fight against fossil fuels and fracked gas, she believed. "With a seat on the UN Security Council, the opportunity is there for Ireland to become a global champion for action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to clean renewable energy."

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times