State set to ban onshore fracking after Bill passes in Seanad

Legislation on controversial gas extraction method a ‘boost for global climate movement’

 

The passing of a Bill to ban onshore fracking means the State joins just a handful of countries globally which prohibit extraction of natural gas from areas rich in shale gas.

The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016, which will become law after passing Committee Stage in the Seanad on Wednesday, is the first Private Members’ Bill to be passed in the Oireachtas.

The outcome is “a boost for the global climate movement and a great victory for local campaigners”, who opposed extraction from shale-rich areas in Ireland, according to the Environmental Pillar (EP) – a coalition of 26 Irish environmental NGOs.

The successful passage of the Bill “will help safeguard our water quality, natural environment and the health and wellbeing of communities across Ireland”, said EP spokeswoman Kate Ruddock, who is also deputy director of Friends of the Earth Ireland.

“We are delighted that the Bill can now be added to the burgeoning global move against fracking, and highlight to the world Ireland’s acknowledgment of the significant risks and negative impacts associated with unconventional fossil fuel extraction,” she added.

The Bill brought by Fine Gael Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin received widespread support from across the political spectrum. It also received widespread public support, with public consultation launched earlier this year receiving some 8,000 submissions – only one opposed a ban.

Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) and Friends of the Earth Ireland, campaigned with grassroots movements across the country in an attempt to get consideration of a ban put on the political agenda.

“The historic move now puts Ireland in the top tier of the global movement to ban fracking, becoming only the third European country to ban the practice after France and Bulgaria, and is an important marker of our commitment to tackling climate change and moving to a sustainable low-carbon economy,” Ms Ruddock said.

Authorities in New York state and Victoria, Australia, have also banned the practice, while in March 2017, Maryland became the first US state with known gas reserves to ban fracking.

‘Irresponsible’

Fracking involves the pumping of a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand into the rock to create openings so that gas can seep out into deep wells. Large shale and other tight sandstone deposits are found across counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Clare.

A recent Environmental Protection Agency study concluded fracking has the potential to damage both the environment and human health. A report issued in April 2017 by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment found it would be “irresponsible” to give fracking the go-ahead in Ireland.

“All around the world communities are campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to put citizens at the heart of a new, clean, healthy energy system. This victory is a tribute to their solidarity and is a shot in the arm for our common cause of a fossil-free future,” Ms Ruddock said.

“Ireland has a reputation as a climate laggard and too often our lack of climate action is a cause of embarrassment internationally, but today we can be proud of our parliament for putting Ireland in the vanguard of the movement to ban fracking.”

GEAI director Aedín McLoughlin said the decision made it clear that risks associated with fracking were too significant to ever let it take place in Ireland. “For six years we have looked forward to this day, when the Irish government would ban fracking and protect our rural environment and communities from this industry that poisons drinking water and air . . . Ireland may now hold its head high as it joins the ranks of countries that have banned fracking.”