Bill to ban fracking may pass before Dáil breaks for summer

Published by Niall Sargent on

12th April 2017

The Oireachtas environmental committee is confident that the Bill to ban fracking will be signed into law before the Dáil breaks for summer recess, says the committee’s chairperson.

Speaking this morning at the launch of a report scrutinising the controversial practice, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton said that the committee fully supports the objectives of the Bill brought by Deputy Tony McLoughlin.

The committee’s report finds that fracking opens up the potential for chemical spills, leaks and groundwater contamination, and concludes that it would be irresponsible to allow fracking in Ireland.

Mr McLoughlin’s Bill has received widespread support from all political parties and attracted great interest from the public, with over 8,000 public submissions received by the committee.

The Bill is due back before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in May, after which Ms Naughton expects it to move swiftly through both houses.

“We are hopeful that by summer recess that could be progressed. This is a priority, and I can assure you of that,” she said. “There’s huge pressure being put on by the committee on the government to push this through as fast as possible.”

Committee members echoed this sentiment, with Deputy James Lawless confident that “going into summer recess we might have this actually in law”.

While backing a ban, the committee outlined four recommendations for revision of the Bill, although they are “technical in nature” and should not halt the progress of the Bill, Ms Naughton said.

Recommendations include penalties for breaches of the Bill, the granting of enforcement powers to a specified body and the expansion of the scope of the Bill to take account of other activities apart from fracking that could be used to access shale gas.

“There’s huge urgency from our point of view with regards to getting this through, but we need to make sure the drafting of the Bill is done correctly,” Ms Naughton added.

Mr McLaughlin was delighted to receive the support of the committee, adding that it was a “great day for the environment”.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD was keen to stress the role of people within his constituency who played a “pivotal role” in highlighting the dangers of fracking since he was elected in 2011.

“I must say to you, the people on the ground that have promoted this for many years, I think that generations to come will thank us for this decision that there will be no fracking in this country,” he concluded.

Eddie Mitchell of Love Leitrim, a community group committed to protecting the county’s environment, thanked the committee for supporting the Bill, outlining  his relief that a ban is moving closer after years of pushing for legislative action.

He also commended the committee members for taking on the fossil fuel industry. “A lot of people in the world wouldn’t believe it’s possible and it’s happened here in Ireland,” he added.

Deputy Brid Smith also congratulated the grassroots movement across the country that “campaigned relentlessly” for a ban to be put on the political agenda.

As well as protecting our health and the environment, she added that a ban is fundamental to meeting our climate change goals and protecting our water resources.

“The process of fracking uses millions of tons of litres of good, safe water and is in danger of putting poisoned and dangerous water back into our water table,” she said.

Options licences for onshore exploration were granted in 2011 to three petroleum companies for the Lough Allen Basin and the Clare Basin, both of which are believed to hold shale gas reserves.

Licences for the Lough Allen Basin covered the counties of Roscommon, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh and Leitrim.

The licenses expired in 2013, the same year a moratorium on the licensing of fracking came into effect.

While the licenses did not permit fracking, they allowed for desktop studies of the licensing area, shallow drilling up to 200 meters and seismic studies to be carried out.

If the Bill is passed, Ireland could become the third European country to ban fracking after France and Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, signed a fracking ban into law, becoming the first US state with known gas reserves to ban the practice.

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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