The issue of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for shale gas has created a great deal of interest - and concern - in a number of counties.
The Department of Energy has not yet given a licence for this controversial method of onshore exploration drilling, however, options allowing for "shallow geological sampling" have been awarded to three companies for the Lough Allen and Clare basins, covering 8,000sq km over parts of counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Clare, Cork, Limerick and Kerry.
I have been monitoring the fracking issue closely at EU and Irish level for a number of years. 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 and my reasoned conclusion is that as things stand, the potential risks of the practice to human, animal and environmental health far outweigh the potential benefits.
For that reason, I and a number of fellow MEPs from across Europe in October 2012 called for a moratorium on fracking in EU Member States while EU and national rules remain insufficiently developed. Now, while it is strictly up to each Member State to legislate for fracking, I felt this would have sent a strong signal by discouraging them from doing so while laws remain weak. Unfortunately, our motion was not adopted, but the message rang clear: fracking under current rules is not acceptable.
In order to ensure that citizens have a strong voice in this debate, I have attended a number of meetings in Co. Clare and Co. Leitrim on this issue. I have brought a number of people to Brussels to attend meetings. In 2011, Dr. Aedin McLoughlin and William Breslin of Co. Leitrim, both members of the Lough Allen Conservation Group, attended a European Parliament hearing on Shale Gas. In 2012, I invited Roscommon-based independent film-maker Catherine Boyle to the European Parliament to interview participants at a workshop on "fracking". Catherine's documentary "The Fracturing of Public Opinion" will be screened at a film festival in Brussels at the end of May and will be screened in King House, Boyle, Co. Roscommon, at 7.30 p.m. on 7 June 2013.
Finally, I was delighted when the European Commission - responding to the concerns raised by myself and others - in December 2012 launched a public consultation on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, and I urged all concerned Irish citizens to make full, detailed and targeted submissions.
This consultation (which closed on 23rd March 2013) is likely to identify significant gaps in EU legislation - such as the need for a Mining Directive, the necessity to expand the remit of the Environmental Impact Directive and gaps in the Water Framework Directive - but it also represented a clear opportunity for concerned citizens, both individuals and action groups - to express their views from an Irish perspective
EU Commission reports on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing available here.
Rough cuts of Catherine Boyle's documentary "The Fracturing of Public Opinion: Bulgaria's Fracking Controversy" are available at: www.catherinefilms.net/fracking
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