The initial consultation in drafting the laws regulating hydraulic fracturing closes in the coming weeks, and the public are being encouraged by a government agency to make their voices heard, writes Damian McCarney.
Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is currently carrying out a consultation process on safety in petroleum industry, which closes on Tuesday, September 27. The Commission hope to include responses in their draft framework published later this year, at which time CER will commence a second consultation process.
"We expect the draft Petroleum Safety Framework to be published in December of this year, for a further round of public consultation," confirmed a CER spokesman. "The final decision paper is expected in April 2012."
The CER has already completed a 'high level overview of the Petroleum Safety Framework' and despite the title of the research, and no mention of 'hydraulic fracturing' in this 157 page document, the framework will also regulate safety aspects of the technique of gas extraction.
Hydraulic fracturing is currently not being conducted in the State, however, Tamboran, the company which intends to operate in Counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim, note that it is currently being used in 15,000 wells in 15 other countries. Campaigners against fracking however point out that it is currently banned in a number of regions, most notably New York and France. The issue is gaining some national attention having been briefly debated on RTE's Prime Time.
A spokesperson for the Commission explained: "Petroleum undertakings (companies) will be required to comply with the Petroleum Safety Framework and the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Act 2010. The Act places the regulation of the safety of petroleum undertakings (companies) within a criminal framework.
"Contravention of the Act can give rise to criminal prosecution leading to fines and potentially imprisonment, with fines up to €3 million and imprisonment up to three years.
"The CER has proposed in its consultation paper on the High Level Design of the Petroleum Safety Framework a comprehensive compliance assurance system, to give the public confidence that petroleum undertakings (companies) are operating in compliance with the Petroleum Safety Framework.
"In the event that the CER finds 'non compliances' it will take all necessary enforcement actions, up to and including revoking a petroleum undertaking's safety permit allowing them to carry out designated petroleum activities."
The CER spokesman said they welcome all comments and views of the public regarding safety regulation of oil and gas exploration/extraction in Ireland.
"The CER has always had a general policy to consult publicly on key areas under its remit, in order to assist in the decision-making process. We are very much continuing with this public consultation approach in relation to the petroleum safety."
The relevant documents can be found by logging onto CER.ie and searching separately for 11137 the 'high level overview', and 11138 for a brief overview. Details on how to respond at the end of the documents.