Cabinet support for move on fracked gas likely to scupper Shannon terminal plan

Eamon Ryan says full ban on importation of fracked gas cannot be put in place at this time

The Government has announced a new policy statement that will prevent Ireland from importing fracked gas, which is likely to scupper moves to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Shannon estuary.

The statement, drawn up by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan, makes clear "it would not be appropriate to permit or proceed with development of any LNG terminals in Ireland, including the Shannon LNG project" pending a review of the security of energy supply for Ireland's electricity and natural gas systems.

Planning authorities, when assessing any planning application, must have regard to relevant Government policy. A legal ban on the importation of fracked gas cannot be put in place at this time, Mr Ryan said, as doing so would require changes to international rules.

Fracking involves drilling down into the earth and directing a high-pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand into the rock to release gas, which then flows to the head of a well.

Environmental campaigners previously criticised the Government for not having a ban on fracked gas enshrined in the Climate Action Bill, which is currently going to through the Oireachtas.

Environmental damage

“Fracked gas causes environmental damage both locally where it is extracted and globally and Ireland, having banned its exploitation onshore, should not impose these environmental risks on other communities around the globe,” Mr Ryan said after the statement was approved by Cabinet.

“I remain as determined as ever to halt the damage caused by fracking and will pursue all opportunities at a European level and also at an international level to do so.”

Ireland’s commitment towards a zero-carbon energy system meant it would rapidly move away from fossil fuel use for energy, the Green Party leader said.

“Developments in renewable energy which reflect our climate ambition will inform the study on security of energy supplies to ensure we have a clean, reliable and secure energy system.”

The US company New Fortress Energy has resubmitted a planning application for the €500 million Shannon LNG import terminal at Ballylongford, Co Kerry, after its previous application was quashed by the High Court last year.

The policy statement also says the Government will work with like-minded European states to promote and support changes to European energy laws - in particular the upcoming revision of the EU’s Gas Directive and Gas Regulation - to restrict the importation of fracked gas. It also says the Government will work with international partners to promote the phasing out of fracking within the wider context of the phasing out of fossil fuel extraction.

Strong reassurance

Brian Leddin, Green Party spokesman on climate action, said the announcement "provides strong reassurance that Ireland will not import fracked gas" as the State moves towards carbon neutrality. The party had secured this commitment as part of the programme for government negotiations, he said, adding that the move put Ireland "at the forefront internationally" on the issue.

Green Party Senator and anti-fracking campaigner Róisín Garvey said fracked gas “has hugely damaging effects on both the global climate and the local environment where the fracking takes place”. She said an outright ban was needed “to ensure we meet our climate neutral targets”.

Ireland imports natural gas via the two interconnector pipelines from Moffat in Scotland, which provide the majority of natural gas currently used here. Given the level of fracked gas in the imports from Scotland is considered very low, Ms Garvey insisted the highest risk of fracked gas being imported into Ireland on a large-scale would be via LNG terminals, if any were to be constructed.