As Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources this week I led the bill to ban fracking through the final stages in the Dáil. The ‘Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum’ bill was introduced by Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin and was amended and strengthened at Committee Stage where it was renamed the ‘Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016’.
I commend and congratulate Deputy Tony McLoughlin on his work and perseverance on this issue which has been one of great concern to many individuals and communities across the country, particularly in the West and North West.
The enactment of a Private Members’ Bill is quite rare and this bill is the first of the 32nd Dáil and the first in several years to pass through the Dáil. I think the bill shows what can be achieved through co-operation and reasoned scrutiny and debate by the different parties and groups at the Oireachtas.
At Committee Stage I introduced a number of amendments to help achieve the main objectives of the bill. These included clearer and more legally-sound definitions, such as definitions of hydraulic fracturing and internal waters, and a statement of the specific activity to be banned.
The bill, which passed all stages of the Dáil today and now goes to the Seanad, effectively bans the practice of fracking anywhere inshore and will ensure that the risks and concerns highlighted in the recently-published report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Joint Research Programme on ‘Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction’ will be avoided.
Issue of Off-Shore – a number of amendments were tabled relating to the use of fracking technology in the off-shore context. These amendments were not accepted at this time as I explained in the Dáil:
Transcript from Dáil on the proposed amendments:
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne: I again thank the Deputies for their contributions. The original Title to Deputy McLoughlin’s Bill was the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016. That was the subject of comprehensive debate and analysis at the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which held hearings, debated the issues, brought in experts and produced a report, the recommendations of which were included in the amendments the Government brought to the Bill. The new Title of the Bill, which was agreed on Committee Stage, is the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016. Therefore, the entire debate has been on onshore.
I fully respect the views of Members who suggest we should look at banning offshore fracking or offshore oil exploration, and I am not suggesting there is not a time or a place for that debate. However, I think it should be done in the context of a separate Bill and a separate committee analysis, bringing in experts on all sides to give their views. That is the approach I would suggest and it is why I am advising that we will not support the amendments that have been put down. With respect to Deputy McLoughlin, the Bill related to onshore and we should maintain the integrity of the Bill as was put down by Deputy McLoughlin, and confine it to onshore. Let us have another debate on another day. I know Deputy Boyd Barrett has his own Bill in regard to offshore and others can bring in Bills in regard to offshore oil exploration. We can have a bigger debate without trying to ban offshore oil exploration following a few back-and-forth exchanges in the House and without proper debate and analysis on Committee Stage. On behalf of the Government, I am not agreeable to the amendment.
Transcript of closing speech on the ‘Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016’
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne): I will ensure I finish before the allocated hour. I congratulate Deputy McLoughlin on the progression of the Bill which, I understand, is the first Private Members’ Bill to progress through Report and Final Stages certainly in this Dáil and also for a considerable number of years.
I acknowledge the support of political parties and Independents across the House on the issue. I also acknowledge the support of former Ministers in my Department, my immediate predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, and also Pat Rabbitte and Deputy O’Dowd, who were involved in the moratorium on fracking in recent years. I also thank the officials in my Department, particularly Orla Ryan, for their work in support of the Bill.
I also thank the committee which hosted the debate, the Chair of the committee, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, and the members of the committee who engaged with the EPA-led synthesis report which contained recommendations that also supported the basis of Deputy Tony McLoughlin’s Bill.
Deputies Boyd Barrett and Eamon Ryan raised concerns about the North-South element of the matter and I omitted to comment on that on the previous occasion. If left in position, I will raise the issue at the North-South Ministerial Council meetings when the Executive is up and running again in the North.
There appear to be some concerns that the progression of technology in the future might in some way allow circumvention of the spirit and letter of this Bill. I wish to make it clear that hydraulic fracking will always require the pumping of high volumes of fluids into rock and that this activity is clearly prohibited by the Bill. I also emphasise that hydraulic fracking cannot be undertaken without the grant of a petroleum licence, and as this Bill makes it unlawful for any person to search for, get, raise, take, carry away or work petroleum by means of hydraulic fracking, no such licence could be granted.
Deputy Wallace raised a concern that the activities of the petroleum affairs division of my Department are inconsistent with the promotion of climate change. I wish to clarify in this regard that the energy White Paper aligns energy policy, climate action policy and exploration policy leading the transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050. It is important to note, however, that there will remain a significant role for natural gas, for example, as a transition fuel. If Ireland manages to benefit from the level of offshore exploration in the Atlantic margin, in terms of another hydrocarbon find, then that could have a substantial positive impact on the Irish economy such as reduced spending on imports, increased Exchequer resources for services and investment, and more opportunities for employment and local businesses.
While I acknowledge there are concerns around the impact of surveying, exploring and potentially drilling in an area of large natural habitat – issues raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett – I believe the Department’s approach to understanding and managing biodiversity impacts has been hugely beneficial. There is collaboration with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the ObSERVE programme, a pioneering piece of work to acquire new baseline data with the aim of filling existing data gaps relating to protected marine species and sites in key offshore basins.
As indicated on the Second Reading of this Bill, it is my view that considerations surrounding the use of new technologies should be scientifically examined and peer-reviewed, as was done on Committee Stage in terms of the onshore prohibition of fracking. The EPA-led research programme did precisely that. The findings of this research programme together with Deputy Tony McLoughlin’s Bill were scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. There is no scientific research of this type, of which I am aware, relating to the offshore, or indeed any grounds for concern in that regard. The advancement of this legislation is a real testament to cross-party co-operation. I again compliment Deputy Tony McLoughlin and thank Members for the support of the House in passing this Bill. I pay tribute to the campaigning groups present in the Gallery today and during other Stages of the Bill. I welcome the passage of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.