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Friday March 08, 2013 18:29 by one of NFI
Statement from participants in the No Fracking Ireland Network on the EPA ‘public consultation’ process with regard to ‘Proposed terms of reference for EPA/DCENR/NIEA Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE)’
We have studied the press release issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in January of this year calling for submissions to a ‘public consultation’ on the 'Proposed Terms of Reference for EPA/DCENR/NIEA Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction'. We have also studied with interest the proposed terms of reference for the EPA/DCENR/NIEA Research Programme.
The second line of the press release accompanying the terms of reference document acknowledges the 'need for detailed scientific information' in this area generally. The publication of peer reviewed scientific information on the impacts of fracking lags way behind the vast amount of anecdotal evidence on this subject coming from communities worldwide, in particular from the United States. This body of anecdotal evidence, already supported by some extant peer reviewed scientific studies, indicates that Fracking is a fundamentally flawed process. It threatens the health and sustainability of communities. We take the evidence being made available by such communities extremely seriously. Hence we have been campaigning for a ban on the process of Hydraulic Fracturing on the Island of Ireland for nearly two years.
Why is the Irish Government attempting to fast-track the production of research data in this area, despite - to quote the proposed terms of reference document - the 'small number of published, peer reviewed, scientific studies in the area'? Our view is that the impetus for rapid action in this area is coming from an awareness, on the part of the present government, that the global body of scientific peer-reviewed evidence is currently catching up with the avalanche of negative anecdotal evidence from communities with regard to fracking.
A cynical, anti-democratic exercise
We believe the present FG / Labour government fully intends to facilitate the development of a fracking industry in Ireland. It intends to do so in the face of strong and ever growing community opposition. We also believe that the public consultation 'process' on the EPA etc. draft terms of reference for research in this area was a cynical exercise intended to put a veneer of community consultation on a fundamentally anti-democratic process. This process is intended to open up large areas of the island of Ireland to exploitation by an extremely controversial industry.
Ignoring community concerns
The structure of the research proposed by the EPA etc does not propose to address fundamental community concerns in the area of health in any sustained way.
Not if, but how
Another basic flaw in the proposed framework for research is the stated intent of its serving to 'assist regulators (North and South) in fulfilling their statutory roles regarding this activity'. This is a clear prima facie statement that the intent of this program of research is the development of a framework to regulate this industry. It is not a comprehensive evaluation of whether it is advisable to allow the development of a fracking industry on the island of Ireland.
Ignoring calls from public to ban fracking
A great deal of evidence (petitions with thousands of signatures calling for the process to be banned, local government bans, large public meetings, protests) exists that the communities in areas where exploratory licenses may shortly be issued do not want a 'process' to proceed in this area, and do not want regulation to be developed to facilitate this industry. Rather, such communities want a clear ban imposed on the process of hydraulic fracturing. There have been no consultations whatsoever directly between the government and communities in the firing line with regard to fracking to date. This is despite the significant number of local councils which have voted to ban the practice.
Creating facts on the ground for fracking to take place
With particular regard to the draft terms of reference document - it is clear that the intended outputs of 'Project A1' and 'Project A2' are the putting in place of 'baseline monitoring systems' to monitor water quality and seismic activity. The implementation of such systems only makes practical sense if it is inevitable that such systems will be used. In other words, the development of such systems has no discernible purpose unless fracking is to go ahead in the areas where these monitoring systems are to be developed and deployed.
This is nothing less than the commissioning and pre-emptive development of infrastructure intended to regulate and monitor a fracking industry. The state agency, in effect, is operating as part of the fracking industry. It represents a warlike intention to create 'facts on the ground' in the absence of meaningful community consent. No such consent exists for the development of an infrastructure for the regulation of a widespread fracking industry in the communities concerned.
Despite the preamble to the outlines of 'Section A' and 'Section A1’ of the proposed research mentioning 'water contamination', 'risks to surface water and ecosystems' and 'the importance of geology and hydrogeology in environmental protection and considerations of human health', none of the indicated intended outputs of this section of the proposed research have anything whatsoever to do with these (as the document refers to them) 'contentious issues'. This proposed outline does not map a path for researchers to review and identify the risks of fracking with regard to water quality and potential impacts on human health. Instead, it attends to the development of strategies for monitoring an extant industry in an effective way. In other words, the research outline presupposes the inevitability of fracking on an industrial scale - and sketches out research areas that prioritise the need to develop effective strategies to monitor such an industry. In the words of the draft terms of reference document, what is sought is 'the conceptual model and technical specifications for monitoring'.
The draft specifications for 'Project B' do nothing to dispel the impression that this report is aimed at preparing the ground for the imposition of fracking on communities. There is much emphasis on identification of 'mitigation measures', 'current and emerging practices in the context of avoidance of the use of additives that have the potential to harm the environment', 'identifying best practice for monitoring', 'identification of best practice in self-regulation' and 'validity and range of existing and potential monitoring and mitigation techniques'. The language deployed in the document generally, and in this section particularly, betrays the fact that what is being asked for from those tasked with research is a framework for regulation and monitoring that can be adopted rapidly by the Irish State if (and more likely when) the present government decides to give the go-ahead for exploratory and commercial fracking.
The EPA: working towards a fracking industry in Ireland
Finally the outline for Project C,makes no bones about indicating that what the EPA and its partners want from this research is an identification of ‘all regulatory requirements and best operational practices associated with the establishment and operation of a “UGEE development” in an Irish context’. In other words, this proposed research is intended to establish best practice in terms of the development of a ‘fracking industry’. In terms of the detail of Project C, the draft indicates that potential researchers will be asked to identify ‘detailed information on the regulatory approaches of other countries’, ‘the best practice in relation to UGEE operation’ and best practice in terms of ‘public engagement’ with extant fracking industries.
Despite the patina of concern for the environment visible in this draft terms of reference document - it does not even attempt to outline a framework for research for a thorough evaluation of the environmental and health risks presented by exploratory or industrial fracking. In fact, such concerns are completely marginalised by the document and the framework for research it proposes. Instead, it clearly and consistently focuses on the development of a best practice framework for fracking and its regulation.
A manipulative and anti-democratic approach to public consultation
Asking for input from the public into such a process is putting the cart before the horse. Such a ‘process’ represents a deceptive and anti-democratic attempt to create the impression that public consultation on the basic question of whether a fracking industry would present a significant risk to public health and the environment is actually happening. It is clear from the contents of this draft document - that the bodies involved have no intention of addressing this basic question. The predominant focus on 'regulation' within the terms of reference document indicates that, for the purposes of this exercise, the EPA is in effect operating as part of the Fracking lobby.
The nature of this document should give pause for thought to anyone considering taking part in consultations of whatever kind with the EPA and its partners on this issue. The other basic concern of the document is to outline the type of industrial research that a business seeking to operate in the industry ought to produce. No Fracking Ireland has not participated in this ‘consultation’ process.
The shameful role of the EPA
We believe it is shameful that the EPA has involved itself in the issuing of such draft terms of reference. These terms of reference sideline basic questions about the environmental impact, danger to human health, and fundamental advisability of an extremely controversial process. Instead, they focus on the development of ‘regulation’. Therefore any submission No Fracking Ireland might have made, and any submissions made by others, will be construed as evidence that communities have been ‘consulted’, supposedly in a democratic manner, on this issue.
Any public consultation worthy of the name ought to have happened in public. It would have entailed meaningful and democratic consultations between state representatives and citizens. It would have directly addressed fundamental community concerns on this issue. That would be the most sensible way to deal with the many unknowns with regard to fracking: together with waiting for a clear consensus to emerge from the scientific community worldwide on the issue of its safety.
During the last government an extensive review of the EPA was commissioned by the Department of the Environment. The report produced fifty eight recommendations to improve the agency’s structure and operation. At present the EPA has absolute immunity from prosecution for failure to discharge its statutory functions. The review found this to be no longer acceptable stating that ‘the EPA’s current blanket statutory immunity when carrying out its functions is difficult to justify in a modern context’. We believe these serious issues must also be addressed and rectified before the community could consider engaging in any meaningful consultation with the agency.
What the EPA is in effect facilitating is the State giving birth to an industry that may place established industries in tourism and agriculture at risk, place public health at risk, and unleash environmental destruction - all in pursuit of a fast buck. The precautionary principle should apply.
Rather than participate in a process intended to lay the foundations for fracking in Ireland, we have continued and will continue to work to give public representation to the views of the thousands who have called for a ban on the process of fracking on the island of Ireland.
EPA Page with link included to draft TOR document: http://www.epa.ie/researchandeducation/research/ugeecon...40754
Overview of Fracking and Ireland from No Fracking Ireland: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/103388