Extinction Rebellion brings fracking concerns to Climate Minister’s front door

Published by Niall Sargent on

October 11th, 2019

Extinction Rebellion activists plastered the Department of Climate Action with scientific research on fracking in protest against the State’s support of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal planned for the Shannon Estuary.

Around 100 protesters, many dressed in boiler suits, gathered at the Department building on Adelaide Road and pasted printouts of the latest study from environmental scientist Professor Robert Howarth that links the US fracking industry to a significant increase in global methane emissions.

Speaking before the Climate Action Committee on Wednesday, the Cornell University academic called on Ireland to ban imports of LNG from the US that he said has an even greater emissions footprint than coal.

Extinction Rebellion, together with environmental groups, opposition parties and the majority of Irish MEPs, also oppose the Shannon LNG terminal over concerns that the imported gas will come from fracking.

Fracking – banned in Ireland – is a process for extracting gas by drilling into rock and injecting pressurised water, sand and chemicals to force out the gas. Many studies in the US have linked fracking to low birth weights, preterm births, birth defects, asthma, and neurological development issues.

New Fortress Energy, the American owner of Shannon LNG, receives gas supply from fracking and also plans to build a terminal on the Marcellus shale basin, a fracking hotspot in the state in Pennsylvania.

Extinction Rebellion Fracking protest outside DCCAE office Photo: Niall Sargent
Extinction Rebellion Fracking protest outside DCCAE office Photo: Niall Sargent

Links to fracking industry

Despite these concerns, the Government nominated Shannon LNG for the European Commission’s projects of common interest (PCI) list at a meeting in Brussels last Friday.

Projects on the list can gain access to a €5.35 billion funding pot and go through a fast-track planning and permit granting process owing to their overriding strategic and public interest significance.

Anne Marie Harrington of Extinction Rebellion told the crowd today that the Shannon LNG project would turn Ireland into a “pipeline for fracked gas into Europe and would lock us into decades of fossil fuel dependence”.

 “The government continuously refuses to engage with the overwhelming scientific evidence, so we felt it necessary to bring it to their doorstep,” she added.

Aisling Wheeler of Extinction Rebellion added that Shannon LNG “screams of this Government’s hypocrisy” as we banned fracking in 2017. “Now we are planning to import it which would contribute to the destruction of communities in the United States,” she said.

Earlier this week, Julia Walsh of US-based Frack Action said that support of Shannon LNG will make the Government complicit in harm that is caused to communities living near the fracking fields of Pennsylvania.

Ms Walsh said that there is currently a glut of gas available in the state that is stranded and in need of a market. The build-out of the Shannon LNG terminal would accommodate this, she said, ensuring that Ireland would prop up the fracking industry there.

“If Ireland imports fracked gas at the Shannon LNG terminal then you will be locking yourself into over a decade of complicity in harming people and children in Pennsylvania,” Ms Walsh said.

Esteban Servat at fracking protest outside DCCAE office Photo: Niall Sargent
Esteban Servat at fracking protest outside DCCAE office Photo: Niall Sargent

Pawn in Trump’s fracking agenda

Joining Extinction Rebellion in Dublin today, Esteban Servat, a scientist and prominent anti-fracking campaigner from Argentina, said that Ireland is a “pawn in a geopolitical push from the US to flood Europe with fracked gas”.

In 2018, the EU signed a strategic energy relationship with the Trump administration to import LNG and diversify its energy supply. A recent report released by Food and Water Europe found that LNG exports to Europe have increased by 181 per cent since last July.

“Donald Trump wants to achieve American energy dominance in the world and has been bullying Europe to buy their fracked shale gas, threatening them with tariffs if they don’t,” Mr Servat said. “Fracking is a leading cause of climate change and is destroying the planet. Bowing to Trump’s pressure, Europe is financing it.”

Mr Servat helped spark the global anti-fracking movement after he published a secret Government document that showed tht the fracking industry in his home country was contaminating water. He recently fled Argentina for Europe due to political persecution and death threats.

At present, 13 EU member states have terminals to import LNG that account for 14 per cent of the bloc’s energy supply, with many more projects in the pipelines.  One project was dealt a blow on Thursday as the Swedish government cancelled a permit for a planned LNG terminal in the port of Gothenburg following a large activist campaign there.

Mother and child joinn Extinction Rebellion action Photo: Niall Sargent

Legal challenges in the pipeline

Shannon LNG is currently embroiled in its own legal problems following a challenge from Friends of the Irish Environment. The case was recently referred to the European Court of Justice over a number of environmental and planning concerns.

Last month, FIE sent a letter to the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton indicating that it may also challenge Ireland’s approval procedure for nominating the terminal to the PCI list.

In the letter, FIE’s legal team FP Logue Solicitors indicates that its client cannot find any draft plan or environmental screening, report, or assessment, or any notices in relation to Ireland’s approval procedure for nominating the terminal to the PCI list.  

This, the letter states, is preventing the group from exercising its rights to participate in the decision making process as outlined in several EU Directives.

John McEligott of Safety Before LNG earlier this week told the Climate Action Committee there is also no evidence that the project was assessed for sustainability. The Commission is obliged to do so, alongside examining its market integration, competition and security of supply potential.

Mr Bruton has said that he is “conscious of the concerns” raised and has instructed his officials to ask the Commission if the sustainability of LNG imports have been examined to date.

Last month, the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) raised its concern about a proposed reverse gas flow interconnector project between Ireland and Scotland that includes the Shannon LNG terminal.

In a letter to the Commission, Irish MEPs argue that it is legally obliged to take into account the opinion of ACER. They said that Irish projects should be removed from the PCI list as they do not meet the required criteria for inclusion on the list as outlined in EU regulations.

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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