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Dublin Opinion >>
Objections to fracking for gas in the Lough Allen Basin
Thursday September 15, 2011 16:34 by Edward Durand
There have been widespread objections to the granting of licences to drill for gas in the Lough Allen Basin. At the moment the only way of extracting the gas is the controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
how fracking works
There have been widespread objections to the granting of licences to drill for gas in the Lough Allen Basin. At the moment the only way of extracting the gas is the controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Large amounts of gas have been located underground in the area under and around Lough Allen, spanning several counties in the North West. The gas has been seen as a solution to our economic difficulties but many see the environmental and health costs, and risks to their businesses, as too great. Also the people don’t reap the benefits of the gas, only the companies.
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It gets its name from the underground fracturing of the bedrock to access the gas. Fracking is the 8 year old process of multi-stage hydro-fracturing with horizontal drilling. The process involves drilling 1-8,000 feet down and horizontally for up to a mile. Then they pump in millions of gallons of water, sand and thousands of gallons of chemicals at high pressure. This fractures the ground, enabling gas to flow. 6-7,000 tankers of water are pumped into each well and 2-300 are removed. The documentary film ‘Gasland’, written and directed by Josh Fox, has brought the issue into the public domain.
Licences have been given to three companies for shale gas exploration by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The full area covered by the licences is nearly 750 square kilometres, including ecologically sensitive areas such as the Geopark area around Lough Allen. The list of townlands affected comes to 31 A4 pages. The companies granted licences in the area around Lough Allen are the Lough Allen Natural Gas Company and an Australian company called Tombora. Groups such as the Lough Allen Conservation Association have called for either a ban or a moratorium on fracking. Many individuals, such as local farmers and fishermen, have also voiced their concerns.
In America where many wells have been fracked, massive poisoning of the water supply from the gas and chemicals has been reported. People’s tapwater has gone on fire when lit. Animals have died and people have become ill in communities where fracking has taken place. The water has been tested in some of these cases and has been found to contain gas and toxic chemicals. There are over 596 chemicals used in fracking, including Benzene, Ammonia and Dimethyl Formaldehyde. These pollutants have a cumulative effect over time. As well as the environmental and health concerns, there are concerns about a constant stream of trucks going to and from the drill sites 24/7.
65 of the chemical compounds used in the fracking process are believed to be hazardous to human health, some are known carcinogens. The EPA, Duke University and other scientific bodies have recently found that there is a risk of contamination of water supplies by the toxic chemicals used in the process. For those who live near the gas wells this is not academic conjecture but a reality as their water is often undrinkable. In America companies were able to drill because President Bush signed an exemption for oil and gas companies to environmental legislation. Drinking water wells are not separate aquafers but are all connected underground, this poses a risk to their contamination. The river Shannon flows through many of these shale gas areas, it also supplies water to many counties. The companies involved are being economical with the truth, first they said they won't use chemicals, meaning only in the exploratory drilling. Then they said they won't use chemicals in fracking, meaning only in the fracturing not the other parts of the process.
Due to the evidence of the risks, a moratorium on fracking has been put into place in a few different countries so far. With clean water increasingly becoming an issue, people are more keen to protect their water supply, realising you can’t put a price on a clean water supply. There are sustainable ways to get power such as wind, wave and solar power. Several groups, as well as individuals, are standing up to defend their water supply, environment and their businesses from the risks associated with fracking. They don’t want inflammable water in their taps and formaldehyde in their children. People are seeing that clean water is more valuable than cheap gas.