Majority of submissions to EPA oppose fracking

EPA announces two-year study following 1,356 submissions, many of which called for a ban on the controversial method of natural gas extraction

Groundswell of opposition:  anti-fracking activist. Photograph: Frack Free Sussex/PA Wire

Groundswell of opposition: anti-fracking activist. Photograph: Frack Free Sussex/PA Wire

 


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that a two-year study of the possibility of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – in the Irish landscape will be more comprehensive than first planned because of the level of opposition to the process.

An area bordering north Leitrim and south Fermanagh has been identified as potentially containing billions of cubic feet of natural gas that can only be extracted by fracking, a process which involves fracturing the rock using high-pressure water mixed with sand and chemicals.

The EPA has invited tenders for an all-Ireland research programme into fracking as promised by Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte.

The deadline for tenders is January 17th, and the €1 million programme is aimed at environmental consultancies which will carry out the review of existing literature on fracking, while also carrying out some baselines studies of water and air levels.


Environmental impact
This will inform future environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in areas where fracking might be carried out.

It will be next summer before the research programme gets under way. The Government has promised fracking will not go ahead while the research programme is being carried out.

It is likely to be late 2016 or early 2017 before any fracking takes place in Ireland – if it gets the go-ahead at all.

The process has been credited with bringing an energy boom to the United States, and President Obama is a supporter. However, opponents insist fracking is environmentally damaging and pollutes groundwater supplies.

EPA research director Dr Brian Donlon said 1,356 submissions were received following a public consultation period, the majority of which were opposed to fracking.

As a result the EPA has included a health expert on the committee drawing up the terms of reference for the study.


Earthquakes
The programme will also include air baseline assessment and a section on seismology which will examine evidence linking fracking to earthquakes*.

Dr Donlon said “it would be fair to say” that a large majority of submissions were against fracking and many wanted a ban.

In May 2012 the EPA published a preliminary desk study on fracking, by Dr David Healy of the University of Aberdeen.

The study warned that knowledge of local geology might be “more important” in Europe than in the US in assessing impacts of the controversial procedure because shale formations are more complex.

Dr Healy said the general opinion of many agencies monitoring fracking was that cases of groundwater contamination associated with fracking were related to “poor well casings and their cements, or from leakages of fluid at the surface, rather than from the fracking process itself”.

An additional risk was the release of natural gas into groundwater, but he added that there had only been one confirmed case of this kind.

* This article was amended on November 28th, 2013.