The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday said that its two-year, €1.25m, study into the safety issues linked with the prospect of fracking in Ireland is due to conclude in July next year and that no licence applications will be welcomed by it or the Department of Natural Resources until after that time.
Given the current 12-month window of a conventional exploration licensing round, that would mean no applications would likely be received until close to 2018, even should the current research find that fracking holds no threat to the local environment.
However, part of the study will look at the current legislation around licensing awards to see if they are suitable for ‘fracking’ projects. As well as an exploration licence from the Government, applicants would need an integrated pollution control licence from the EPA before working and the agency said it has received no such application to date.
The EPA also said that no fracking procedures would take place as part of its study in the run-up to next summer. Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — alludes to the extraction of gas whereby water, sand and chemicals are pumped into gas-bearing rock at high pressures. The technique has drawn much criticism, with concerns persisting over potentially negative knock-on effects on water and air quality in surrounding areas.
Appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, yesterday, EPA general secretary Dara Lynott came under heavy criticism for the EPA’s use of the Irish arm of American environmental consultant, CDM Smith in its ongoing research.
CDM, which has been involved in fracking projects in the US and Poland, leads the consortium that also includes UCD, the University of Ulster, the British Geological Survey and others.
Fianna Fáil deputy, Paschal Mooney and his Sinn Féin counterpart Michael Colreavy both voiced concern over CDM’s involvement, with Mr Colreavy calling it an “extraordinary decision” and asking how anyone could view the research as being independent, given CDM’s apparently pro-fracking leanings.
Mr Colreavy called CDM “a cheerleader for the fracking industry”.
Mr Lynott said the EPA’s sole role is ensuring the protection of the environment on behalf of the people of Ireland, and said the process underway was “very robust and independent”.
He said the consortium was selected as part of an open tender process and 27 people from “14 or 15” bodies (including the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment in the North and Bord Pleanála had run the rule over the consortium.
Mr Lynott said that the research consortium was “eminently qualified, peer-reviewed, independent and fit for purpose”, with no conflicts of interest involved. He said the EPA deliberately sought the services of researchers experienced in the area, with “comprehensive knowledge” of the process.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael Moynihan said any research needed to be “one million per cent” foolproof if fracking activity was allowed to proceed in Ireland.
The EPA said such a view is “our aim as well”.