Briefing Note On The Joint Research Programme into UGEE on the Island of Ireland

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A Short Briefing Note On
The Ireland/Northern Ireland Joint Research Programme into Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction

(Fracking)
With particular interest in Public Health

(Click here to download the original document)

Foreword

In New York State, health was put at the centre of decision making. This happened because the research in New York was part of a systematic objective assessment process that included extensive information being provided to the pupil. They received an unprecedented amount of public comments during a 6 year de facto moratorium with many groups called for a health review to go along with the environmental study which was silent as to the potential impacts on human health. Governor Andrew Cuomo finally charged the New York State Department of Health Commissioner to lead a review of the impacts on public health.

The review stated in its conclusion that;

…it is clear from the existing literature and experience that HVHF activity has resulted in environmental impacts that are potentially adverse to public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF and whether the risks can be adequately managed, HVHF should not proceed in New York State.

This resulted in New York State Banning Fracking.

Introduction

This briefing has been but together to provide background information with regard to the appointment of a pro – Fracking engineering and construction firm CDM Smith based in Cambridge, Massachusetts to head up research into Fracking in Ireland. CDM Smith offers consulting, engineering, construction and operations services to the energy industry including the shale gas industry[1] On its website, CDM Smith states that it has worked with Marathon Oil for the “completion of environmental, geotechnical, design and construction management services for its first proposed exploration well pad development in Poland. The Irish Times published[2] an article in which they reported that the Vice President of CDM Smith Kevin Malloy criticised the decision of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to Ban Fracking. The Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims this research programme is required to make sure that any potential applications in Ireland would not adversely impact on the environment and human health. While the public want policy to develop based on science with a focus on public health both North and South Governments are driving forward with the introduction of regulations for the industry. New York State’s ban on Fracking is based on a review of the impacts on public health and given CDM Smith’s unapologetic pro-Fracking stance, communities are now very concerned about the objectivity of this research.

Regulatory Agencies

The state agencies that have a statutory role in regulating onshore oil and gas activity in Ireland have formed a Steering Committee. The Steering Committee’s role encompassed the drafting and finalisation of terms of reference for a research programme relating to the environmental impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE)[3] on the Island of Ireland. They reviewed and evaluated the tenders submitted, from parties seeking to carry out their research programme. They oversee and provide advice now to the CDM Smith’s consortium of researchers. The steering Committee comprises of representatives from DCENR, DECLG, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), An Bord Pleanála (ABP), the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI). After the terms of reference had been finalised an Environmental Health Representative was nominated by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and has been added to the Steering Committee. We believe this person has had no role in developing the terms of reference.

There is a lot of confusion about the research, its role and whether health plays a central part or not.

The research steering committee is refusing to publish any interim reports and will not allow the public access to any further information until the final report is published. Public money and strive funding is being used to finance sealed research while working with industry insiders behind closed doors. This private research is giving effect to the consideration of exploration applications while blocking the rights of the public to information or to participate fully in decision making.

Public Health and the Irish Research

It is not clear if the research could ever have been capable of protecting public health. Public consultations on the draft terms of reference took place after the communities refused to take part in partial consultations. Despite concerns about the EPA immunity from prosecution and the lack of a formal Strategic Environmental Assessment process, 1250 out of 1365 submissions asked that health be addressed. The Steering Committee refused to engage in further public consultation after the completion of the terms of reference but Dr Brian Donlon, head of research under the strive funding at the EPA claims that human/public health are now better included in the final terms. Speaking on behalf of the EPA who are administrating the research in a BBC television interview with Shane Harrison, Dr Brian Donlon said“;

…we are required to make sure that any potential application would not adversely impact on the environment and human health”

Extract from the terms of reference[4];

The key questions this Research Programme needs to answer are:

1. Can UGEE projects/operations be carried out in the island of Ireland whilst also protecting the environment and human health?

2. What is ‘best environmental practice’ in relation to UGEE projects/operations?

The key questions to be addressed by the research indicate the outcome from the research will be used to answer questions about human health. However the focus of the tasks to be carried out is very much based on assisting the regulatory agencies rather than considering whether it is possible to proceed while insuring no risk to public health. The service agreement between the Steering Committee and the single operator research contractor CDM Smith demands that an integrated solution is required to deliver research in three main areas:

  • Baseline Characterisation;
  • UGEE projects/operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;
  • Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection

Project-B: UGEE Projects/Operations: Impacts & Mitigation Measures

When you apply Dr Donlon’s priorities to Project B as part of the second main area for study, CDM Smith (a service provider to the shale gas industry) will be examining Impacts & mitigation measures associated with unconventional gas exploration and extraction (UGEE). They are tasked with identifying the potential impacts of UGEE on human/public health. Then they will be responsible for identifying successful mitigation measures to counteract the impacts on public health. A clear conflict of interest has been created here in the appointment of CDM Smith and raises serious questions;

Can the government or we as a community be satisfied that the results of such a research project could be objective?

 

How could such research inform ministerial decisions to offer licences?

The shale gas industry is in a role, central to and fundamental to influencing decisions about the health of a community it intends to exploit for profit.

EU Commission Recommendations

In January 2014 the European Commission responded to calls for urgent action and produced a recommendation inviting member states to follow minimum principles when applying or adapting their legislation applicable to hydrocarbons exploration or production using high volume hydraulic fracturing[5]. The principles are expected to be made effective by the EU Member States within 6 months of their publication. Member States are also invited to inform the Commission annually about measures taken. In order to comply with this recommendation the both governments should commit to carrying out a Strategic Environmental Assessments prior to licensing.

See extract:[6]

3. STRATEGIC PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

3.1. Before granting licenses for exploration and/or production of hydrocarbons which may lead to the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, Member States should prepare a strategic environmental assessment to prevent, manage and reduce the impacts on, and risks for, human health and the environment. This assessment should be carried out on the basis of the requirements of Directive 2001/42/EC.

A Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) briefing paper was provided to the Minister of State Joe McHugh TD after his appointment in 2014. He has responsibility for the development of Natural Resources in the Republic of Ireland. PAD briefed to him regarding the Commission’s Recommendations and they stated;

..It’s not currently implementable in Ireland as we have a de facto moratorium in place pending the outcome of the EPA research into the potential impacts of the hydraulic fracturing[7].

The current research programme is not a systematic or objective assessment of a government proposed policy, plan or programme. It can’t be allowed to take the place of a strategic environmental assessment which would involve informing the public and allowing the public to engage in decision making that affects them and their environment. Governments on both sides of the border are avoiding the creation of plans and programmes going instead directly to project level decisions in order to avoid proper assessment under the Strategic Environmental Directive[8]. As a result communities are blocked from participating formally in decision making that will impact directly on their right to live safely in their own homes. The current research programme is set inside this flawed process providing a platform for industry to self regulate while keeping affected communities at arm’s length.

Conclusions

The appointment of a Pro-Fracking company to answer questions about public health is outrageous and unacceptable to communities living in areas where Fracking is proposed. The current research programme should be abandoned. It is a waste of public money and the terms of reference are already out of date and out of line with the European Commission recommendations. Given the vast amount of peer reviewed information highlighting the risks to public health that has come forward in the last 2 years our political representatives must seek a Review/Evaluation of the emerging scientific information on the public and community health effects of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF). This must be comprehensive and be carried out by a competent person who has responsibility for public health. Public health risks should be addressed by the Chief Medical Officer working under the Minister of Health. Any review should involve public consultation and public participation, be answerable to the Minister for Health, and be able to influence a decision whether or not HVHF (Fracking) can be used in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Important documents to review

http://www.health.ny.gov/press/reports/docs/high_volume_hydraulic_fracturing.pdf

http://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf

http://www.medact.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/medact_fracking-report_WEB3.pdf

Contact Eddie Mitchell by email on eddiejmitchell@gmail.com

Briefing01


[4] TERMS of REFERENCE for an EPA/DCENR/NIEA Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) page 5