Marian Harkin is calling for a wider debate on fracking
An Oireachtas committee has vowed to visit the earmarked frack zones in the Lough Allen basin after a 'thought-provoking and insightful' discussion of the potential environmental implications at an meeting today.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications heard from policymakers, experts and a campaigning group on the possible environmental implications of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of exploration in Ireland.
The Committee engaged separately with senior officials from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, Laura Burke, and representatives from Good Energies Alliance Ireland, an independent organisation campaigning against shale gas extraction using fracking.
Chairman of the Committee Tom Hayes TD says: "Today our Committee heard a series of thought-provoking and insightful presentations on what is an emotive and divisive issue. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has the ultimate authority in granting licences for onshore gas exploration and he has made it clear that no decision will be taken before the results of further EPA scientific research is completed.
"Fracking is banned in a number of EU countries, including France, and in-depth scientific study is required to assess whether Ireland's geology lends it suitable to shale gas exploration. Our Committee is particularly concerned with the social and environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing. Committee Members emphatically put forward the view that local communities must have a meaningful input into the decision-making process on future development.
"Keen to gain a firsthand insight, our Committee undertook today to visit North Leitrim where preliminary investigations are currently taking place and engage with a wide range of opinion within the communities living there."
Meanwhile an independent MEP has called for a 'deeper and wider rational debate' on shale gas extraction while participating in an Irish-made documentary on the subject.
Marian Harkin invited Roscommon-based independent film-maker Catherine Boyle to the European Parliament to interview participants at a workshop on 'fracking'. Boyle's documentary will focus on the impact of the shale gas industry on two villages in Bulgaria.
The Ireland North & West MEP noted that "this workshop was yet another milestone in the ever-deepening and ever-widening debate on shale gas extraction, and what role, if any, it should play in the future energy mix of Ireland and Europe".
She added that "the workshop very much confirmed the emerging consensus on this extraction method, namely that without drastically improved regulation, the potential environmental and socio-economic risks associated with fracking currently outweigh the potential benefits".
The Independent MEP argued that "more and more evidence is becoming available and this needs to be brought to public attention. My office has produced a report on fracking in Pennsylvania with cooperation from scientists in Cornell University. Their research and our observations show that water quality and animal health have been adversely affected by fracking".
"While the film is still in the preparatory phase," she concluded, "I hope the end result proves to be a balanced and useful contribution to the bigger debate on fracking. I commend citizens like Catherine who shine a light on some questionable aspects of the extraction industry."