Commission tells MEPs to voice fracking concerns with Irish government

Published by Niall Sargent on

October 4th, 2019

Irish MEPs have been told by the European Commission to air any concerns over the proposed Shannon LNG terminal directly with the Government.  

Earlier this week, seven MEPs from the island of Ireland sent a letter to Juul Jørgensen, the Director-General of the Commission’s energy department, calling for Irish gas projects to be removed from a special energy list that they said would encourage the importation of fracked US gas into Europe.

The letter was signed by MEPs from the Green Party and Sinn Fein, together with independents Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

The letter outlines a “fear” that the Government is “proceeding at all costs and without any public consultation” to support the EU’s strategic energy cooperation with the US to expand liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. 

The MEPs outlined specific concern with the prospect of the Shannon LNG terminal in Co Kerry remaining on the Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list that they say would lock the EU into fracked gas for decades to come.

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.

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.

A recent filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by New Fortress Energy, the US owner of Shannon LNG, shows that it receives gas from hydraulic fracturing – more commonly known as fracking.

New Fortress also plans to build gas facilities close to the “fracking fields” of Pennsylvania where there are increasing cases of rare cancers, as well as other health, social and environmental issues linked to the industry.

The Government is very supportive of the Shannon LNG project and is expected to have put it forward for the latest PCI list at a high-level meeting in Brussels today.

Shannon LNG has been put forward for the list (updated every two years) since 2013 as part of a north-south gas interconnector scheme stretching from Scotland to Malta.  Prior to a debate in the Dail yesterday, there had been no parliamentary scrutiny of the project’s inclusion on the list.

The terminal also forms part of plans for a reverse interconnector project between Ireland and Moffat in Scotland. At present, the interconnector is unidirectional with gas only flowing from the UK to Ireland.

Last week, the EU’s Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) released its analysis of candidate PCI projects, finding that the reverse flow interconnection was one of several projects that “did not prove that their overall benefits outweigh costs”.

ACER also raised concern with a number of proposed schemes within the overall north-south gas interconnector project under which Shannon LNG sits.

The Irish MEPs stated in their letter that the Commission is legally obliged to take the opinion of ACER into account.

Natural gas pipeline USA Photo: Bilfinger

Only one Irish project put forward

A letter sent from Ms Jørgensen to the Irish MEPs today states that three candidate gas projects on the island of Ireland have not been proposed on the draft PCI list following assessment against a set of criteria for inclusion.

“Only one candidate gas project on the island of Ireland has been proposed on the draft regional list,” the letter, seen by The Green News, states.

Ms Jørgensen added: “The Commission cannot ex officio remove a candidate project from the draft regional lists. I therefore advise you to reach out to the Irish government to explain your position.”

Although the project still on the list is unnamed in the letter, it is believed to be the Shannon LNG project. The Department for Climate Action (DCCAE) has yet to confirm if the project was put forward for the list today despite a request from The Green News for further information.

Projects on the PCI list can gain access to a €5.35 billion funding pot and also go through a fast-track planning and permit granting process. Critics argue that this allows them to avoid environmental assessment even where it cannot be guaranteed that they will not impact on protected nature areas.

Ms Jørgensen tried to allay these fears, writing that inclusion on the PCI list “does not prejudge the fulfilment of EU environmental law” and that projects will be withdrawn if in breach of national or European legislation.

Yesterday, the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton TD said that inclusion on the PCI list “wouldn’t override planning or regulatory needs”.

If included in the PIC list, he said, Shannon LNG will still require “all the necessary regulatory compliance certifications that go with any such application”.

Earlier this week, a Commission proposal to invest €530 million to build the Celtic Interconnector between France and Ireland was accepted by Member States. The project, also on the current PCI list, will enhance the development and integration of energy from mainland Europe into Ireland.

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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