No development “whatsoever” will take place on fracking in the State until the completion in 2016 at the earliest of a scientific survey, the Dáil has heard.
Minister of State for Energy Fergus O'Dowd told Sinn Féin's Martin Colreavy that the study, to be conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was expected to take up to two years and the "potential publication date will be some time in 2016".
Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – uses high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks and release the gas held inside.
The Minister said that until the study was finalised "there is absolutely no way we will consider any new application or fracking will commence".
Mr Colreavy had expressed concern that the Department of Enterprise in the North had extended the timescale for a fracking licensing test drill “to a company which appears not to be sufficiently well organised to keep within the time line it negotiated with the department”.
Mr O’Dowd said, however, that licensing application was a matter for the authorities in the North. But he added that they were involved in a joint North-South study to identify the regulatory issues involved.
Mr Colreavy warned “poisoned water and air do not stop at any border and as such any decision in the six counties will impact on people living in the 26 counties”. He also said the British government was considering introducing legislation giving approval to companies to drill under properties without obtaining the consent of their owners.
The Minister said that was a matter for the British authorities. The Irish research aimed to establish whether shale gas exploration involving the use of fracking could be conducted in a way that did not cause significant environmental pollution, to identify all possible risks, and establish if they were manageable.
Independent TD Clare Daly said independent research had already been conducted in the US which highlighted the danger of fracking to air and water quality.
She also noted a Guardian report that 45,000 British citizens had joined legal moves to stop their government changing its trespass laws.