Transition Derry

Tackling Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Breakdown

Issue No. 71 - January 1, 2016

 Guaranteed Fracking Free Logo Shale Gas Bulletin Ireland

A twice-monthly email bulletin on shale gas issues for Irish decision-makers, journalists, and the general public

1.Ireland publishes plan to reduce fossil fuel use significantly by 2050

How we use our energy has changed forever
On December 16, the Irish government published the White Paper Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015 – 2030, which sets out the policy framework for government actions in the energy sector up to 2030. Among the targets set forth in the document are a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, compared to 1990 levels, of between 80% and 95% by 2050. The plan calls for these emissions to be reduced to zero or below by 2100.

As Frank MacDonald notes in the Irish Times, describing the White Paper as "pretty lame", these targets are well beyond the scope of the current White Paper, which in his view "provides no clear road map" for the period actually covered by the document.

While the White Paper notably avoids taking a position on hydraulic fracturing, Energy Minister Alex White stated in the Irish Independent that he considers it unlikely in a the context of a transition to a low-carbon economy: 

"It is reasonable to ask whether it makes sense to contemplate the introduction of additional carbon-based energy sources in this context.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is currently examining the potential environmental and health impacts of fracking.

"This is important work, not least because policies must be based on the best available scientific evidence."

"But, even if it is found to be safe, I find it hard to envisage a policy decision to introduce fracking, given that we are going for a low-carbon energy system in which oil and gas are gradually curtailed and, in the longer term, eliminated."

In view of the upcoming general election, the Irish Independent interpreted the minister’s statement as being "a strong signal from the Labour Party that it will not accept any proposals to frack for oil and gas if returned to office".

In April 2015, Fianna Fáil published the policy paper Energy in Ireland which includes this statement: "Fianna Fáil also opposes the use of the fracking technique in Ireland. There are potentially significant risks to our natural environment due to the pumping technique and the fate of the fluids used in the drilling and fracturing processes… As a result of these risks Fianna Fáil are demanding a ban on any fracking activity in Ireland."

On December 15, 2015, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson commented, following a vote in the plenary session in Strasbourg in which Sinn Féin MEPs "reiterated their opposition to hydraulic fracturing": "Sinn Féin has been front and centre of the anti-fracking campaign in Ireland, raising the issue in the Dail, Stormont and the European Parliament as far back as 2011. We will continue to oppose any form of hydraulic fracturing, in Ireland or elsewhere."

2. Richard Boyd Barrett proposes bill to ban fracking in the Republic of Ireland

Keep Ireland Fracking Free postcard
TDs from all parties will have the opportunity, probably after the general election, to demonstrate where they stand on fracking by supporting or opposing the proposed bill to ban hydraulic fracturing in Ireland.

On December 17, 2015, TD Richard Boyd Barrett (People before Profit Alliance) proposed in the Dáil a bill to ban fracking in Ireland. Speaking at the press conference announcing the bill, Deputy Boyd Barrett said: 

"Government announcements this week, in the aftermath of the Paris Climate summit, that they are serious about tackling climate change and reducing fossil fuel use, are nothing more than 'hot air', if they don’t immediately ban fracking. How can Minister White’s statement’s yesterday that the government are determined to reduce Ireland’s CO2 emissions, be taken in anyway seriously, if at the same time they allow efforts to commence fracking in this country to progress. If we are serious about tackling run-away climate change we must ban fracking and leave this shale gas in the ground.

"It is also deeply disturbing that at the Joint Oireachtas Committee last week, the EPA admitted in response to questions I asked them, that the report they are currently undertaking into fracking would not when it is completed be able to tell us whether fracking represented a danger to human health.  New York has just banned fracking on health grounds. How could fracking be unsafe for human health in New York and safe in Ireland? The truth is, the EPA report into fracking is a sham exercise, hopelessly corrupted by the central involvement of pro-fracking companies such as DKM Smith and AMEC, who are bought and paid for by the big gas and oil companies."

Cited by the Irish Times, Deputy Boyd Barrett said that, while it was unlikely that the bill would be debated in the Dáil before the general election, if re-elected he would ensure that the bill would get private member’s debate time.

3. British and Irish shale found to contain high levels of toxic selenium

Study reveals high levels of toxic selenium in UK shale
study from the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen has found high levels of toxic selenium in rock samples from Britain and Ireland. As explained in this press release from the university, the findings are significant as they increase the risk of adverse health impacts linked to groundwater contamination from fracking.

As John Parnell, who led the study, noted:

"Recently, there was widespread concern in the US when water wells near a shale drilling site were found to contain selenium at levels that exceeded the maximum amount considered safe to drink, and this was assumed to have been released from the shale during drilling.

"The samples we have analysed from the Bowland Shale are some of the most selenium-rich in the British Isles, and far in excess of the levels of selenium found in the US example.

"Indeed, a number of the samples we tested exceeded the far stricter European Union limits, so it is clear that any drilling to extract shale gas in the Bowland Shale area must be carefully managed."

Similarly high levels of selenium was found in equivalent rocks in Ireland, where the selenium in the shale is known to have caused selenium toxicity in livestock.

In 2013, researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington published a peer-reviewed study which evaluated samples from 100 private drinking water wells and found levels of selenium, as well as arsenic and strontium, that exceeded national contaminant limits for drinking water. For more on this study, see our previous article.

The toxic effects of too much selenium include gastrointestinal disorders and neurological damage.

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