Parliamentary Question No. 274
To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update in the Environmental Protection Agency research taking place into the practice of hydraulic fracking; when this research will be complete; and if he will provide assurances that no authorisations for fracking will be granted without comprehensive research on its effects as well as a full public consultation process in the area concerned..
– Seán Kyne.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Mr. F. O’Dowd)
In October of last year, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct research and advise on the environmental implications of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting natural gas from underground reserves.
In May 2012, the EPA published its preliminary research into the environmental aspects of shale gas extraction in the form of a small desk based study, which was carried out by the University of Aberdeen.
The study provides an introduction to the environmental aspects of fracking including a review of regulatory approaches used in other countries and areas for further investigation and research such as Geological Principles of Relevance in Fracking and Shale Gas Extraction, Potential Environmental Impacts and Establishing Best Environmental Practice.
The study is helpful in that it is a peer reviewed report that sets out basic background information in relation to the technology that is hydraulic fracturing and to the associated issues and concerns. While the study is a preliminary study it will inform the development of the terms of reference for a much more detailed piece of research to be commissioned by the EPA later this year.
The terms of reference for this more extensive research is being drawn up by a steering group including representatives from the EPA and my Department and the objectives of this further research are, inter alia, to
To establish if shale gas exploration and extraction involving the use of the fracking technique can be carried out in a manner that will not cause significant environmental pollution.
To identify all possible environmental risks associated with the fracking technique and to ascertain if these risks are manageable; and,
To identify best practice with respect to environmental protection for the use of the hydraulic fracturing technique for the exploration and extraction of shale gas.
It is the intention of the EPA, assisted by a steering committee comprising, amongst others, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Commission for Energy Regulation, to launch the research call later in 2012.
It is anticipated that following the engagement of the relevant experts, the conduct of the study could take in excess of 12 months, leading to a potential publication date in 2014.
Until there has been time to consider the second stage of the EPA research, I can confirm the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling will not be authorised. However should an application to engage in hydraulic fracking be received in the future, I can also confirm that such an application will be subject to Environmental Impact Assessment, including full public consultation.