The Department of Energy and Natural Resources take an ‘objective’ view to the controversial fracking technique used to extract gas and will take all the environmental legislation into account before issuing an exploration licence.
Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ as it is commonly known is the technique used to remove shale gas by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at extreme pressure to break open cracks to release the trapped gas.
Officials from the Petroleum Division of the Department of the Environment made a presentation on fracking in Ireland to Mayo County Council’s Strategic Policy Committee on Environmental Policy last week and explained how licences are issued for such a practice of extracting gas.
Ciarán Ó hÓbain, principal officer at the Department, told the committee meeting that before licences are issued each application would have to be subject to environmental impact assessment reports as well as approval from the EPA, the local authority, An Bord Pleanála and the department. He explained that no area in Mayo is subject to a licence application and the ‘significant expertise’ into fracking was not available in Ireland.
When Cllr Micheál McNamara put it to Mr Ó hÓbain that he got the feeling from his presentation that he was in favour of the process, he replied that there was no question of being for or against fracking.
“When we get an application we have to look at the legislation which requires an environmental impact assessment which looks at the impact on the soil and water. We will come to an objective view and it isn’t a question of being for or against something,” the department official explained.
The announcement by Australian mining company Tamboran that they intend to use fracking to exploit a gas field in Leitrim has highlighted the issue which is claimed to cause environmental damage. There are concerns it will contaminate the water supply and Clare and Sligo County Councils have passed motions proposing a ban.
Members of the committee admitted that they had little understanding of fracking but they had been contacted by constituents concerned that it might take place in Mayo. Cllr Michael Kilcoyne said he saw a news report showing a flame coming from a kitchen tap and asked if this can occur.
Mr Ó hÓbain said he was aware of the incident and this was likely to have been caused by gas leaking from a ‘bad well’ and there was an engineering solution to this problem.
In relation to the proposed ban by Clare and Sligo County Councils, Mr Ó hÓbain said that the Minister was not legally bound to accept their decision in relation to fracking if the department deems it safe but the local authority would have a say.
He concluded by stating that Tamboran claim the gas field in Leitrim may be one to two times the size of the Corrib gas field and the tax levels for onshore and offshore gas fields are the same.
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