Why is there concern about the research focused on fracking in Ireland?

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In late 2011 a gas exploration company called Tamboran Resources who had a cross border interest including an exploration option licence in Sligo, Leitrim, and Cavan and a full exploration licence in Fermanagh outlined a scenario describing the industrialisation of one hundred thousand acres of land including the drilling and fracking of 3000 wells They added that this well count could rise to 9000 wells if the geology proved to be suitable. The affected communities were bewildered by this news as there had been no information or consultation with the public. Also no assessment of any kind was made of the decision to award these licences in what is now being described as a trans-boundary shale gas basin. Rather than back the project the Irish politicians blamed the previous government for granting the licence and claimed that people living in the affected would be protected by a consent process. They proclaimed that the shale gas development would be assessed under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.  In our case and under this consent process approach the cumulative impacts of the proposed 3000 wells can’t be assessed. The EIA approach is a project led approach where the company propose a phase of a development and write an environmental impact statement (EIS) to accompany their proposal. This EIS is then assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has to limit their assessment to the EIS content. In order to assess the cumulative impacts of the shale basin a Strategic Environmental Assessment should have been carried out prior to the awarding of the licence. This is a high level assessment which would have been carried out by the EPA and would have considered the impacts of different scenarios of development including a scenario where 3000 wells could be drilled and fracked.  A similar high level assessment of fracking in New York State led to a ban being imposed there.   The state agency responsible for granting the licences failed to alert the EPA when they were considering granting licences with the result that the EPA whose role it is to make sure proper assessments are carried out under the SEA Directive never screened the licensing process. This goes against all good planning and governance procedures but facilitated the government to rule out a high level assessment of fracking and have chosen instead to continue to procure the decision making process using the EIA directive only which when used in this way accommodates project splitting.

 

A group of state agencies that have a statutory role in regulating fracking formed a Steering Committee to develop a research programme related to the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration & extraction (UGEE). They produced terms of reference which went out for public consultation and ignored the calls for a high level assessment. Furthermore our political leaders have told us that the research will answer the questions raised by concerned communities yet the terms of reference clearly indicate that the research is focused on helping state agencies carry out their statutory rolls as part of the EIA process leaving out an SEA. In fact the government has put in place what it calls a “de-facto moratorium” and has stated that this research will inform its future policy regarding the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing. The result is that we are using research with regulatory objectives to inform policy on fracking in Ireland that presumes no need for high level assessment.

 

The policy objective from the research is to answer important questions about the environment and health but is misleading because the research question has a very different meaning if your focus is on a project rather that the high level cumulative impacts seen only through the high level SEA. It’s clear even by the way the research question is presented that the research questions focus on projects and operations rather than the macro level.

The research is tasked with the following question[1];

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

 

The regulatory objectives is to answer the question

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

 

The research is divided into three main areas;

  1. Baseline Characterisation;
  2. UGEE projects/operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;
  3. Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection

 

Given the many political statements emphasising that the research will answer the questions raised by affected communities about public health, the greatest concern now is that the research is forming the basis for policy and in particular whether fracking can be used while protecting the environment and human health. The second part of the research is of particular concern if you understand that the research is focused on projects and operation with minimum cumulative impacts without being able to consider cumulative impacts of many projects or the entire development of the shale basin.

 

  • UGEE projects/operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;

 

The successful research contractor will be responsible for identifying the impacts of fracking on human health and then will be tasked to identify successful mitigation measures to counteract these impacts. The leap of faith that will allow this information focused on projects and operations to inform government policy on licensing is unacceptable and out of line with recent European commission recommendations.

Who is CDM Smith?

 

The research programme went out to tender and was won by CDM Smith who now lead a consortium of researchers. CDM Smith is a pro-fracking engineering and construction firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and they are now heading up research into Fracking in Ireland. They offer consulting, engineering, construction and operations services to the energy industry including the shale gas industry. 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 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.

 

While the people living in affected areas want policy to develop based on science with a focus on public health the government is driving forward with the introduction of regulations for the industry. Given CDM Smith’s unapologetic pro-fracking stance, communities are now very concerned about the objectivity of this research.

 

Put simply, CDM Smith is an overtly pro-fracking multinational that are now in charge of delivering seemingly objective research into the health and environmental impacts that fracking will have on us and our environment. Would you trust this company and this research to deliver objective data that ensures our health and environment are protected, or are we to trust that this company will be the ones who will provide the solutions to the devastating impacts that fracking will have on our environment and health were it to go ahead?

 


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

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