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Overview of Fracking and Ireland
Friday March 08, 2013 18:20 by One of NFI
This was originally published by Gluaiseacht in a publication released at the time of the 2012 Grassroots Gathering in Galway.
On the 26th of March 2010, the then Fianna Fail / Green coalition government, through the department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources announced that they were inviting applications for 'Onshore Licensing Options over the Northwest Carboniferous Basin and the Clare Basin.'
The senior minister in the department at the time was Green Party member Eamon Ryan. Conor Lenihan (Fianna Fail) was the department’s junior minister. On the day this invitation to the oil and gas industry was announced, Conor Lenihan stated: “Over recent months there has been renewed interest in targeting the natural gas resource potential of the two basins, which had been identified in earlier exploration. Finding and producing our indigenous natural gas resources is critical to enhancing Ireland’s security of energy supply and reducing our reliance on imported fuels”.
On the same day that the Fianna Fail / Green Party government made this announcement, Reuters published a story concerning the problems surrounding this industry with particular emphasis on problems in terms of water pollution. This article was just the latest in a stream of stories that were emerging for some time from communities and organisations all across the U.S. outlining the trail of destruction this industry was causing as it moved closer to areas where people were living.
Almost a year later on February 14th 2011, Conor Lenihan announced "the completion of a detailed evaluation by his Department of the applications received for Licensing Options in the Northwest Carboniferous Basin and the Clare Basin.” In offering the Licensing Options Minister Lenihan said that he was very pleased by the level of interest shown in the competition and by the quality of the applications submitted by the companies.
One license was awarded to Tamboran Resources PTY Ltd for an area covering 243,635 acres in the Northwest Carboniferous Basin. Another license was awarded to Lough Allen Natural Gas Company Ltd for over 115,398 acres, also in the Northwest Carboniferous Basin. The last license was awarded to Enegi Oil PLC covering an area of 122,317 acres in the Clare Basin.
Between the three licenses awarded, vast areas of eleven counties in the republic are now zoned for exploration. Tamboran Resources also hold a license for exploration in Co. Fermanagh. Much of the area zoned is in the Shannon Basin Region and stretches from Fermanagh all the way down to Cork and Kerry. This area covers the natural drainage basin of the Shannon itself. Under the EU Water Framework, this area, its waters and ecosystems are supposed to be "protected", "enhanced" and “promoted” as a sustainable environment and as “quality” water resources. This ecosystem includes the rivers, lakes, canals, groundwater and surface waters of the region.
Over just a few short years in the United States, Canada and Australia, as onshore fracking for unconventional gas drew closer to inhabited areas, where there are water systems, aquifers and rivers, local communities began to suffer the consequences of this rapidly expanding industry. Reports of contaminated water in rivers, lakes and domestic water supplies were coming to light. As time moved on further reports of disappearance, sickness and death in wildlife and livestock were also being reported, as well as a rise and commonality of various illnesses, including various cancers and respiratory problems in people living in areas where unconventional gas extraction was taking place.
Since then, over the last number of years in the U.S. thousands of complaints have been lodged with the government, the EPA, public representatives, health authorities and the industry. A massive billion dollar public relations campaign by the industry followed and many professionals and individuals who were outspoken about the effects of the industry were issued with gagging orders.
Finally in the U.S. the national mainstream media began to pay some attention, and as New York State became the industry’s latest target, the New York Times decided to devote a whole series of investigative articles to 'fracking'.This series was entitled 'Drilling Down'. One of these articles included leaked, insider emails describing the economics of the industry as boom bust, evidence of companies overstating gas deposits, other articles covered issues of land, air and water pollution, serious health risks, political interference, a crash in the value of land and housing, problems of toxic waste disposal, accidents and spills. The list goes on.
Because of the very nature of this huge, extensive and invasive industry, in the U.S. and elsewhere people's lives and the environment have been irrevocably ruined. Sadly for many communities all over the States, Australia and Canada the damage is already done. But because of these people speaking out and standing up alongside others who are currently being threatened by this industry there is a global people's movement emerging right now to ban unconventional gas extraction. In the U.S. some opponents to the industry say it is not possible to shut down the industry immediately - that this would take time. However it still is possible to stop it from spreading and being introduced elsewhere.
The extraction of unconventional shale gas is inherently a contaminating, flawed industrial process. A mixture of up to 500 chemicals is used during the process. Eighty to three hundred tonnes of chemicals can be added to one to eight million gallons of water each time a well is fracked. Scientists are still trying to find out which chemicals various companies are using during the process. This mixture of chemicals, sand and water is pumped down through aquifers at high pressure which fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow out of the well.
Apart from chemicals being added to the water, scientists have stated that the process is also dislodging and mobilising naturally occurring radioactive compounds such as uranium, radium, and strontium, as well as other heavy minerals. Problems of water contamination mainly come from leaking well casings. In Josh Fox's new short documentary 'The Sky is Pink', the director explains how through leaked industry documents, the problem of leaking well casings for the industry has been known for some time and is, by their own admission, insolvable. From information obtained from industry documents, Fox states that over thirty years, 50% of all well casings fail. He goes on to say that there is a period for which we need these well casings to last, so that they do not allow our water to be polluted, that period of time is “forever” and this is one of the major problems that the industry will not own up to.
In Europe and here in Ireland, the industry, aided by the EU and our government are trying to tell us that shortly the process to extract unconventional gas will be improved through regulation, more monitoring and better cement well casings. They are also claiming that very soon there may be fracturing which does not use chemicals or even water. As the industry, supported by government, scramble to sell us a non-existent improved process - what they fail to realise is that the problems surrounding this industry are not just about the technology or one aspect of how it pollutes. The problems caused by this industry are multifaceted. Basically speaking, the problem is the industry itself, from beginning to end. Scientists have clearly indicated that the full effects this industry will have on people and the environment will not be known for years to come.
Not only will the industry cause irreversible pollution to our water, land and air through various stages of the process, it will also industrialise hundreds of thousands of acres of our landscape. It takes hundreds of trucks over two months to service one well. Tamboran propose to have up to sixteen wells on each well pad. A well pad can be up to five or six acres in size. They envisage having hundreds of pads all over the northwest, which would entail miles and miles and miles of pipeslinking these pads. Once these wells have been drilled they are there forever. There is no ‘fill them in and forget about it’ option. These wells will continue to leak and release highly toxic substances for their entire lifetime.
The introduction of this type of industry on this scale, will threaten existing sustainable industries such as farming, tourism and renewable energy. It will also threaten the future supply of the country’s domestic water. Plans are already underway to take water from the Shannon Basin region for the Dublin metropolitan area. Unconventional gas extraction and the resultant local use of this fossil fuel will also threaten any hopes we have of meeting our carbon emission targets, and seriously undo efforts to reduce the growing negative impacts of climate change.
We will receive nothing beneficial from this industry apart from a few short-term, low paid jobs. The gas extracted will be sold on the global market to the highest bidder. In a recent article in the Irish Times it was reported that there is perhaps just enough shale gas in the North West Carboniferous Region to supply Ireland for a mere 12 years.
Five county councils have called on the government to ban shale gas extraction in Ireland. Several countries, various states in the U.S and federal regions in other countries have banned or are putting in motion plans to ban the industry. The evidence is already there to support our united call for a ban on this industry. There is a vast amount of information available from various sources on the numerous, harmful aspects of this industry. This evidence includes peer reviewed academic research, documentaries, studies and investigations from health authorities and NGOs and most importantly the endless first -hand accounts of people living in areas where this industry is active.
No Fracking Ireland is a grassroots movement of various groups and individuals peacefully campaigning, networking and lobbying at various levels to have this industry banned on this island. We believe that the actions of previous government parties and the present government by ignoring all the available evidence are putting the interests of the oil and gas industry before those of the people. Because of this we believe we must build a movement of people across this island to ensure this government do not allow the industry to proceed any further in the licensing process. We encourage others to join the anti-fracking movement in Ireland and get involved in whatever way they can and help us reach our aim. We believe that by banning this industry we are protecting Ireland’s most important and vital natural resources, our land, air and water and in turn the health and future of our children for generations to come.