Launch of the Green Party's Keep It in The Ground Bill Photo: James Orr

Dail to debate fracked gas import concerns tomorrow

October 2nd, 2019

The Government has agreed under pressure from opposition groups to hold a Dail debate on its controversial support of a proposed gas terminal in Co Kerry owned by a company linked to fracking in the US.

In a tweet this afternoon, People Before Profit’s (PBP) Brid Smith – a vocal critic of the Shannon LNG project – confirmed that a debate will be held at 1.30pm tomorrow afternoon.

The session will see the Government’s decision to support the project for inclusion in the European Commission’s Project of Common Interest (PCI) list scrutinised. Over 40 opposition TDs have signed a PBP motion opposing the decision.

PCIs are cross-border energy projects that the EU says will help the bloc achieve long-term decarbonisation in line with Paris Agreement targets. Shannon LNG was put forward by the Government in 2017 as part of the north-south gas interconnector scheme stretching from Scotland to Malta. 

The PCI lists are redrawn every two years and the Government must now give its approval for the terminal’s inclusion in the next round or it will be removed from the list. It is believed that Irish representatives will be in Brussels this Friday to put forward our recommendations.

Ms Smith welcomed the decision to host a debate prior to any final decision being made on Friday, previously accusing the Government of keeping the date of the Commission meeting secret, a move she said was “disgraceful and disingenuous in the extreme”.

To date, there has been no strategic environmental assessment carried out or parliamentary scrutiny of the decision that critics say could see Ireland become a net exporter of fracked gas to Europe.

This, they say, will lock us into gas use for decades to come, drive up methane emissions and make it impossible to achieve the radical cuts in emissions required to limit temperature rise.

Opening the door for fracking

In a recent filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the owner of the terminal project New Fortress Energy said that it receives a portion of its gas supply from hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.

Fracking is a process for extracting natural gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas.

The terminal would have the capacity to import and regasify more than six million gallons of LNG per day, the equivalent of our current annual gas imports.

Inclusion on the PCI list could give the project access to a €5.35 billion funding pot and allow it to go through a fast-track planning and permit process, essentially overriding environmental and climate protections.

Speaking at a briefing on the issue at Buswells Hotel this morning, Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth said that any move to support the building of infrastructure to import fracked gas into Ireland is “morally reprehensible”, especially as we banned fracking two years ago.

The ban followed a comprehensive study from the Environmental Protection Agency that found that the practice has the potential to damage both the environment and human health.

Numerous academic studies in the US have linked low birth weights, preterm births, birth defects, asthma, and neurological development issues to fracking, particularly among populations living near wells and facilities.

Shale Gas Drilling Rig Photo: Max Pixel
Shale Gas Drilling Rig Photo: Max Pixel

Locking communities into dirty future

Also speaking at the briefing, Julia Walsh, an anti-fracking activist in the US, said that approval of the terminal for special European status will have major consequences for NGOs and communities fighting for a US ban.

“We are asking the Taoiseach and the Irish government not to import US fracked gas which will lock us into fracking and its impacts on public health and the climate,” she said, referencing the impact on communities she has worked alongside in Pennsylvania.

A recent investigative report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examined the potential links between shale gas drilling and fracking and a rise in cancer cases among children in counties where the industry has a stronghold.  Ms Walsh warned that the gas arriving at the Shannon LNG terminal would most likely come from the “fracking fields” of Pennsylvania.

In SEC filings earlier this year, New Fortress Energy said that it plans to develop liquefaction assets in areas with “significant ‘stranded’ reserves” that are not connected to large interstate or transnational pipelines “as is the case in Pennsylvania”.

The company is currently developing one liquefaction facility in the Marcellus area of Pennsylvania that is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2021. The facility would have the capacity to produce between three and four million gallons of LNG per day.

The Department of Climate Action did not respond to requests from The Green News to confirm Friday’s meeting with the Commission or to outline its position on the Shannon LNG project.

About the Author

Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London

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