Historic bill to ban onshore fracking in Ireland passes through the Oireachtas

Published by Niall Sargent on

June 28th, 2017

The historic Bill to ban onshore fracking in the Republic of Ireland has passed through the Oireachtas today.

The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016 will now move on to the President for signing after it passed its final stage in the Seanad this afternoon.

The Bill brought by Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin has received widespread support from across the political spectrum and was the first private members Bill to pass through the current Dáil.

Fracking is used to extract onshore natural gas from areas rich in shale rock. It involves the pumping of a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand into the rock to create openings so that gas can seep out into deep wells.

Large shale and other tight sandstone deposits are found across counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Clare.

Mr McLoughlin expressed his delight that the Bill will now be made law and “protect hundreds of thousands of people from the harmful and damaging effects of hydraulic fracking”. He added that it was a “special moment” for him and the people he was elected to represent.

“This law will mean communities in the West and North West of Ireland will be safeguarded from the negative effects of hydraulic fracking,” he added.

“Counties such as Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Clare will no longer face negative effects like those seen in cities and towns in the United States, where many areas have now decided to implement similar bans to the one before us.”

The historic move now puts Ireland in the top tier of the global movement to ban fracking, becoming only the third European country to outright ban the practice after France and Bulgaria.

Authorities in New York state and Victoria, Australia have also banned the practice, while in March 2017 Maryland became the first US state with known gas reserves to ban fracking.

An amendment to the Bill brought by Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan to ban all offshore exploration, similar to a recent move by the new Macron government in France.

Ms O’Sullivan said that her amendment was not an “effort to disrupt, to delay or to derail” the Bill, but to highlight the “contradiction” within our energy policies.

“We are signing up to international agreements to cut emissions with one hand, while signing oil and coal and gas exploration licences with the other,” she said.

Although the amendment was defeated, Ms O’Sullivan said that she was delighted that the Bill has now passed through the Oireachtas.

“I am delighted that once the president signs the bill I am confident we will pass here today, that fracking in Ireland will be banned, and that we will have secured crucial protections for our air, water, farms, rivers, climate and more,” she said.

The passing of the Bill has also been lauded as a great victory for local campaigners and a boost for the global climate movement by the Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 Irish environmental organisations.

In a statement, the Pillar said it is delighted that the Bill can now be added to the “burgeoning global move against fracking”.

A study published by the Environmental Protection Agency states that fracking has the potential to damage both the environment and human health.

An April 2017 report from the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment also found that it would be irresponsible to give fracking the go-ahead in Ireland.

According to the Pillar, its members Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) Ireland campaigned “relentlessly” with grassroots movements, such as Love Leitrim,  across the country to get the prospect of a ban put on the political agenda.

Deputy Director of FoE Ireland, Kate Ruddock, said that the ban is a “great victory” for campaigners who mobilised and educated themselves on the issues around fracking.

“All around the world communities are campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to put citizens at the heart of a new, clean, healthy energy system,” she said.

“This victory is a tribute to their solidarity and is a shot in the arm for our common cause of a fossil free future.”

While Ireland has a reputation as a “climate laggard”, she said that Irish people can today “be proud of our parliament for putting Ireland in the vanguard of the movement to ban fracking”.

“The passage of the Bill shows that ‘new politics’ can produce progressive results when deputies from all parties and none work with each other and those who elect them to tackle the challenges we face,” she added.

Aedín McLoughlin, the Director of GEAI, also heaped praise on the campaigners who “never gave up the struggle to make this issue a national one”.

“The long road is travelled and we have come successfully to its end,” she said. “For six years we have looked forward to this day when the Irish government would ban fracking and protect our rural environment and communities from this industry that poisons drinking water and air.

“Ireland may now hold its head high as it joins the ranks of countries that have banned fracking.”

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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