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Response to the article 'Frank Convery, Yvonne Scannell, Fracking and Local Credibility in Ireland'

category national | environment | opinion/analysis author Thursday June 14, 2012 12:27author by Sonya Oldham - People's Association Watchdogauthor email irelandpaw at gmail dot com Report this post to the editors

This is in response to the article 'Frank Convery, Yvonne Scannell, Fracking and Local Credibility in Ireland' published in Irish Environment on May 30: http://www.irishenvironment.com/commentary/frank-conver...land/

To whom it may concern,

This is in response to the article 'Frank Convery, Yvonne Scannell, Fracking and Local Credibility in Ireland' published in Irish Environment on May 30: http://www.irishenvironment.com/commentary/frank-conver...land/

Our democratically elected councils have a long tradition of representing and engaging with the community. The Green Paper on Local Government Reform states that there is significant potential for stronger community influence and input into the decision-making processes of local government. Indeed, if some of those recommendations had been implemented, local citizens would have had recourse to:

Petition rights – enabling local communities to raise issues formally;
Plebiscites – formal local votes on specific proposals.

However, neither the Green Paper nor the Aarhus Convention have been fully implemented, leaving local citizens with few options in relation to participatory democracy. Instead, they have used what means they have to petition the local councils to have their concerns heard.

The authors' derogatory reference to a 'partisan crowd in the local hall' begs the question: how do informed citizens act? Clearly, if one had access to the above, they would be the preferred options. Without recourse to such mechanisms, however, informed citizens may petition their council, organise presentations, etc.

How would an informed citizen as mentioned by the authors within the article act?
Although the authors seem to have decided what is appropriate action for citizens to take, they neglect to inform us of the available options. Their concern about local democracy is laudable but not reflected within the article, the article in its entirety seems to seek to undermine the democratic action that has transpired.

Though it seems permissible for gas companies and those with vested interests to receive a hearing, it does not seem that this should follow through for concerned citizens and informed professionals.

The authors are concerned that there is little evidence that the council has listened to both sides of the story. This may have been true if it were not for professionals giving of their time to counterbalance the presentations by the gas companies.

A briefing note as suggested in the article that outlines the technical, economic (including enterprise), social and environmental issues arising for a host community would be ideal and a health impact assessment should also be added to that list.

Presently those resources are not available. Yet, the gas companies have an open door when it comes to presentations to the government, councils and media. This approach needs to be balanced out. To infer that the council was more informed by anecdote than by serious analysis is insulting to our elected representatives, Dr Aedin McLoughlin - and even Mr Moorman.

Tamboran gave presentations to each council which was balanced by presentations by Dr Aedin McLoughlin who holds qualifications in biochemistry, cancer research, industrial microbiology and ecotourism. As a rural enabler and a resident of the area, she is aware of local concerns and possible impacts of the industry. She is also a professional more than qualified to give a presentation. Many peer reviewed scientific studies were also presented to the councils.

It was stated that both the councils and people should leave all decisions to the EPA and Bord Pleanála. However, even the authors do not have faith in these organisations. This is evidenced by one of several points made by Yvonne Scannell in her submission to the review of the EPA:

"The relationship between EPA and Bord Pleanála is dysfunctional. BP are supposed to cooperate on EIA assessment, etc. but do not.

From the authors' Ireland report 2010
Access to Justice, Case C-427/07 Commission v Ireland
This case illustrates once again a systemic failure by competent authorities in Ireland
to transpose environmental directives properly.

Inadequate EIA carried out
Usk and District Residents Association Ltd. v. An Bord Pleanála [2009] I.E.H.C. 346
where the High Court ruled that An Bord Pleanála had erred in failing to assess the
environmental impacts of the construction of a landfill liner for cells where waste was
to be deposited."

Although the EPA do a fine job, it is acknowledged that they are understaffed and underfunded. The EPA is presently reviewing the process of hydraulic fracturing. Once this is finalised, the process should move quickly. Is it not now that people should seek to inform themselves of such a complex and possibly destructive technology, which may adversely impact on the environment and health?

Although the authors provided a short explanation of the process, the possible impacts were ignored. These include:

A 2011 EU study on the ‘Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health' highlights the following impacts:
* Unavoidable impacts are area consumption due to drilling pads, parking, and manouvering areas for trucks, equipment, gas processing and transporting facilities, as well as access roads.

* Major possible impacts are air emissions of pollutants, groundwater contamination due to uncontrolled gas or fluid flows due to blowouts or spills, leaking fracturing fluid, and uncontrolled waste water discharge.

* Fracturing fluids contain hazardous substances, and flow-back contains heavy metals and radioactive materials from the deposit.

* Experience from the USA shows that many accidents happen, which can be harmful to the environment and to human health. Many of these accidents are due to improper handling or leaking equipments.

* Groundwater contamination by methane, in extreme cases leading to the explosion of residential buildings, and potassium chloride leading to salinization of drinking water is reported in the vicinity of gas wells.

* The impacts add up as shale formations are developed with a high well density (up to six wells per km²).

Health - Chemicals

Chemicals used in the drilling and fracking process include benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, ethylene glycol, glutaraldehyde and other biocides, hydrochloric acid, and hydrogen treated light petroleum distillates. These substances have a wide spectrum of potential toxic effects on humans ranging from cancer to adverse effects on the reproductive, neurological, and endocrine systems (ATSDR,Colborn T, et al, U.S. EPA 2009).

Many of the chemicals in these products have effects at low doses, and children and pregnant women should not be exposed to some at all.

Additional naturally occurring heavy metals and radioactive materials may also be mobilised from the rock during its fracture,including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, thorium and uranium, and these may also interact with the chemicals in the fluid.

Work by researchers in the Tyndall Centre in the University of Manchester, published in 2011, found that 58 out of 262 chemicals used in fracking gave cause for concern. Among these, 17 were found to be toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 were classified as being acutely toxic to human health and eight were classified as known carcinogens. Six were suspected carcinogens, seven were mutagenic and five were known to have adverse impacts on the reproductive system.

Furthermore, a study by US scientists found that over a four-year period, a total of 750 chemicals had been used in fracking, approximately a half of which could affect the brain and nervous system. A third had potentially adverse effects on the endocrine system and a quarter of the chemicals used had the potential to lead to cancer and mutations. A further study in Pennsylvania, published in 2009, found that almost three quarters of the chemicals used had adverse health effects.

Air Pollution

Sources of air pollution around a drilling facility include diesel exhaust from the use of machinery and heavy trucks, and fugitive emissions from the drilling and NGE/HF processes.

Increases in particulate matter air pollution, for example, have been linked to respiratory illnesses, wheezing in infants, cardiovascular events, and premature death (Laden F, et al, Lewtas J, Ryan PH, et al, Sacks JD, et al). Since each fracturing event at each well requires up to 2,400 industrial truck trips, residents near the site and along the truck routes may be exposed to increased levels of these air pollutants (New York State DECDMR, 2009).

Volatile organic compounds can escape capture from the wells and combine with nitrogen oxides to produce ground-level ozone (CDPHE 2008, CDPHE 2010). Due to its inflammatory effects on the respiratory tract, ground-level ozone has been linked to asthma exacerbation and respiratory deaths. Elevated ozone levels have been found in rural areas of Wyoming, partially attributed to natural gas drilling in these locations. (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, 2010). In an air sampling study from 2005 to 2007 conducted in Colorado, researchers found that air benzene concentrations approached or exceeded health-based standards at sites associated with oil or gas drilling (Garfield County PHD,2007). Benzene exposure during pregnancy has been associated with neural tube defects (Lupo PJ, et al), decreased birth parameters (Slama R, et al., 2009), and childhood leukemia (Whitworth KW, et al., 2008).

Air pollution may occur from radon release. It is clear from the radon map of Ireland, published by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, that many of the counties listed all have areas of high radon. The dangers of radon gas are increasingly being recognised and its role in the aetiology of lung cancer is now well established.

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution from the drilling process and resulting truck traffic has not been optimally evaluated, but since drilling sites have been located in close proximity to housing in many locations, noise from these industrial sources might impact sleep, and that has been associated with negative effects on learning and other aspects of daily living (Stansfeld SA,et al., 2003, WHO 2011).

This is an industry that may affect up to 100,000's acres in parts of 12 counties of Ireland. Should local citizens remain ignorant and put all their trust in authorities that even the authors seem to find ineffectual?

Another point which was raised and needs addressing, as it is incomprehensible that the authors have failed to grasp the reality is the question of energy security. Secondly, exploration for sources of energy is supported by all political parties, and is vitally necessary if Ireland is ever going to reduce its 86% dependence on imported sources of energy. Yet Ireland will have no guarantee of supply or price and will have to buy on the open market, so how does this help Ireland reduce its energy dependence on imported energy?

'Grandstanding' was mentioned several times in this article. The term means "to seek to attract applause or favorable attention from spectators or the media." The authors appear to hold a very low opinion of our elected representatives. Grandstanding or listening and acting upon the concerns of their electorate is local democracy.

This article seeks to undermine what little local democracy we do have.

We may seek to challenge the present system and recommend that informed citizens are given a democratic say via petition rights and plebiscites and of course that more technical information is provided to base such decisions on. This would be right. However, instead the authors generally appear to hold a very derogatory view of local councils and a condescending attitude towards local citizens, whilst having an almost cavalier attitude towards the ability of gas companies to say what they will without any counterbalance.

The position of the authors in relation to hydraulic fracturing should be made clear. There is one word that underlies both the councils and the citizens, and that is local. It is locally that people will have to live with the adverse impacts of this technology and the industrialisation of their area. Are they to be excluded? Are all the decisions to be made by those who are professionals but whom will remain unaffected?

The local council should act as an intermediary between the people of their area and government. Government may be more concerned with national issues than local concerns so the local council should be informed and involved in participatory democracy.

The only decision that could be made given the amount of controversy and academic research available to date is to apply the precautionary principle and the councils should be commended for this and for their support of local democracy.

As the Aarhus Convention is now before the government for ratification, the 'partisans in the local hall' may now have a chance to become informed citizens with a participatory say in their future.

Yours sincerely,

Sonya Oldham
People's Association Watchdog

Related Link: http://www.irishenvironment.com/commentary/frank-convery-and-yvonne-scannell-fracking-and-local-credibility-in-ireland/
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