This article is a good indication of where our Government stands on Fracking
The Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte called the advent of unconventional gas a “game changer” which must be considered here when he spoke on fracking at an information session at the Royal Academy in Dublin last week. His comments have been welcomed by Tamboran Resources but refuted by local anti fracking group Good Energies Alliance Ireland.
The Minister said “I believe that there is considerable genuine concern about the potential environmental and health considerations related to this activity and that the nature of the debate so far has tended to exacerbate these concerns,” he explained that “decisions taken must be based on transparent assessments of solid evidence. We need to study more of the science and less of the propaganda – on both sides of the argument.”
“The advent of unconventional oil and gas has been a ‘game-changer’ on the US energy market with global repercussions. As the EU is likely to remain a “higher” energy cost region in the future, it is unavoidable that we consider the impacts that unconventional oil and gas production will have on security of supply, energy prices and competitiveness,” he stated.
He said in Ireland we import all our oil and more than 90% of our gas and are vulnerable to interruptions in supplies, “The shale revolution is indeed a game-changer the effects of which must be considered on this side of the Atlantic.”
Speaking about the EPA study he said it will be 2014 before we have the geological and ground water data, impacts and mitigating measures and regulatory issues to inform the policy options here.
He noted that “our shared goal is to maximise the benefits to Ireland from our indigenous oil and gas resources. But we need to ensure that both exploration and production – conventional or unconventional, on land or at sea – are conducted safely and on an environmentally sound basis.”
This week, as President of the EU Council, Pat Rabbitte will host an informal meeting of the EU’s Energy Ministers in Dublin. The meeting will include an initial discussion on unconventional gas and oil.
Tamboran Resources, the company seeking to develop shale gas in North Leitrim welcomed the above comments. A spokesperson for Tamboran told the paper, “Energy costs are hurting households and businesses. Shale gas is one of the few game changers that can truly address these rising costs. The Minister’s reference to the impact of shale gas in the US, where it has resulted in a major boost in competitiveness and energy self-sufficiency, are noteworthy, particularly how shale gas is giving an advantage to America over Europe. The debate in Ireland about shale gas will continue, but we are now starting to see serious consideration of the issues based on science and economics.” The company said they are looking forward to the completion of the EPA study.
Ballinaglera’s Aedin McLoughlin of Good Energies Alliance Ireland said, “The EPA study, as described appears to be an exercise designed to pave the way for fracking.” She said the Minister’s speech “confirms that, despite 1,300 submissions being made to the EPA, the majority of which demanded a study of the health impacts of fracking, Minister Rabbitte confirmed that the study is confined to identifying “best practice in respect of environmental protection for the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques”.
She said it is “extremely disturbing that no health study is mentioned despite the clear wishes of the people.” Disputing that the shale revolution is a “game-changer,” GEAI said “Shale gas does not change the game of burning fossil fuels; it is not clean energy, despite the propaganda of the oil/gas industry; it is not a sustainable source of energy, disappearing once the gas is extracted; the gas produced would belong to the industry, not to the people, and would be sold on the international market at market price. Fracking will not bring cheap gas to Ireland, nor will it make us energy-secure.”
No Fracking Ireland called on the EU Ministers meeting in Dublin Castle this week to join with campaigners to work towards imposing an EU wide ban on hydraulic fracturing. In a statement the anti fracking group called on them to make it clear “that the citizens of the EU will not accept a technocratic imposition of extreme energy policies on the continent.”
A recent survey conducted by Eurobarometer at the request of the European Commission has shown that less than one in ten EU citizens think that unconventional fossil fuel extraction should be prioritised by the EU. Seven out of ten citizens, think that the EU should be prioritising the development of renewable fuels.
The group stated “Thousands in Ireland have already signed petitions calling for a ban on the process and campaigns are growing all over Europe against the development of such an industry. Moves to impose such an industry on the citizens of Europe in an anti-democratic manner by the EU Commission and by national governments will only serve to fuel the rapid development of the anti-fracking movement.”
A year and a half ago Cuadrilla Resources, a company created by private equity to exploit the decline in easy to extract fossil fuels, began fracking the first ever shale gas well in Britain. Unfortunately for them, during these first fracks, a rather inconvenient event happened. Two of the frack stages cause a number of small, but not inconsequential, earthquakes. For those worried about the safety of these new extreme energy extraction techniques, the fact that these earthquakes buckled the well casing with unknown consequences for the integrity of the well were worrying. For the company and the government though, the main issue was the PR nightmare that ensued. A gentlemen’s agreement was quickly reached that Cuadrilla would refrain from fracking until this PR problem could be fixed. Numerous reports, endorsements from tame institutions, and oodles of spin later this PR problem has allegedly been solved.
This week saw the long expected announcement that the government will allow Cudrilla and other fracking companies to continue with attempts to exploitation of unconventional gas. The solution has been to integrate fracking into government energy policy, explicitly a new “Dash for Gas” which will involve the building of over 40 new gas-fired power stations. With North Sea gas in terminal decline, imports stalled due to completion with Asia and consumption being squeezed by rising prices, an energy plan involving burning loads more gas might seem to somewhat disconnected from reality. However there is method in their madness. The option of sensible energy conservation and localisation would not be profitable for transnational corporations. On the other hand the predictable energy shortages and price spikes can could be extremely lucrative.
The impact of a mad scramble to exploit unconventional gas would not be equally felt either. The fundamental difference with unconventional gas is that it is trapped in impermeable rock and cannot flow cannot easily flow so wells need to be drilled at regular intervals to access it. In order to supply just the proposed 40 new power stations it would be necessary to drill in excess of 50,000 wells, covering an area of over 7,000 square miles (at a density of 8 wells per square mile). Add in the thousand of miles of pipelines, compressor stations and associated infrastructure that would be needed and you get some idea of the scale of the issue. With the evidence from the US and Australia of destruction of water supplies, air quality, ecosystems, and people’s health mounting by the day, local people are justifiably scared.
On a global scale, we might just be able to get away with burning perhaps a quarter of known conventional fossil fuels and still have a (mostly) liveable planet. Any exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels would put us on a path to truly catastrophic climate change. Worse still fracking may just a gateway drug. The government is already selling licences for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), literally setting fire to coal underground to extract energy. This planned close to major cities including London, Swansea, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh. In the next year the main battles are likely to be in Scotland and Lancashire, but many other areas of the country are threatened. Dart Energy has submitted a planning application for 14 sites, with 22 wells and 20 km of pipelines near Airth and Cuadrilla Resources want to restart fracking in Lancashire. The government also has plans to sell off half the country to fracking companies in the next year.
All this may be sounding very bleak but there some glimmers of hope. Over a year ago a report was produced that was supposed to smooth the way to a swift resumption of fracking. Unfortunately the morning that the report was released Cuadrilla’s drilling rig in Lancashire was stormed and occupied for over 11 hours, while further protests took place outside the conference. Less than a month later the rig was occupied again for another day. Meanwhile a string of public meetings and local organising was building a network of local community groups that continues to grow. Cuadrilla was planning to have fracked up to a dozen test wells and be pushing towards full scale production by now. Instead an alliance of local communities and environmental activists has managed to help delay the introduction of shale gas extraction for over a year and cost Cuadrilla millions.
If that all sounds a bit familiar, it should do. It is the basic story of the roads protests of the 1990s, where a variety of people from all walks of life were united by a common sense of injustice. We all know how well that worked out for the people who want to build a load of shit in other people’s communities. Now our countryside is under even greater threat, while the global implications have become apocalyptic. Across the globe the movement against extreme energy is gaining momentum. The fight for a future we can live in has just begun. For a round up of anti-fracking activity worldwide you could do worse than this occasionally amusing report by mercenary company Control Risks.