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A well being drilled. Water-pit the size of a football pitch alongside

A well being drilled. Water-pit the size of a football pitch alongside

What is fracking?

Fracking is a short name for hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract natural gas, called methane, from a rock called shale, deep underground.  Wells are drilled down to the level of the shale, maybe a mile or more, and then the drills go a mile horizontally through the shale (L-shaped).  Thousands of wells can be drilled where gas is produced.

Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals, a mixture called fracking fluid, are pumped into each well at enormous pressures.  The fluid cracks open the shale and releases the gas.

What are the problems with fracking?

Initially, 300 square miles of Leitrim and Fermanagh are targeted for fracking.  We are talking about changing this area into a heavily industrialised zone, with 6-acre well-pads constructed every 2 – 3 kilometres throughout the landscape, 8 – 16 wells per pad, thousands in total.  The area will be greatly disturbed, with heavy traffic 24 hours a day and thousands of trucks and tankers, noise, fumes and dust.

Traffic through a town

Traffic through a town

The target areas of Leitrim and Fermanagh sit on top of aquifers.  There is a very high risk of contamination of the ground water during drilling, since one in 150 wells has serious problems and they are planning to drill thousands.  Underground water sources are inter-connected, and this area includes the Shannon and Erne waterways.

Up to 40% of the fracking fluid, millions of gallons, comes back up from each well, mixed with other nasties from below – heavy metals, petroleum chemicals and radioactive materials.  This is very toxic and has to be stored and then cleaned up.  In Ireland, we don’t have treatment plants that can handle this volume and mixture of chemicals.

Accidents happen.  At the well, there can be big spillages and even blow-outs.  Tanks can leak.  Transport lorries can overturn.  Animals are attracted to spillages, which are salty, and can ingest toxic chemicals.   Any contaminated spillages will automatically end up in our streams, lakes and rivers, since the ground in Leitrim has poor percolation and liquids are not absorbed.  The rivers include the Shannon, which is planned to provide the water for Dublin in the future.

Houses around a fracking pad

Houses around a fracking pad

Gas escapes from the wells into the air, increasing our carbon footprint.

For the local community, there are many dangers, especially for people’s health.  Smog and fumes cause asthma, and other lung diseases in children.  Older people can get sick.  Everyone suffers from stress and worry, especially about contamination of our air and our water.  A way of life is gone – farming and mining are incompatible!  Tourism and mining are also incompatible.

Does it matter for the rest of the country?

If fracking is allowed into Ireland, it could cause huge damage to our reputation as a country with a clean environment.  Our tourism industry nationally would suffer, with thousands of jobs lost.

The River Shannon is planned to become the source of drinking water for Dublin in the future.  Any contamination of its source would have huge consequences for our capital city.

If chemicals such as benzene, which is found in wastewater and polluted air, get into the food chain, animals could be contaminated.  If ONE sample of our meat is found to contain benzene, that would be disastrous for our agricultural industry, worth 9 billion euro last year.

80% of our dairy production is exported.  If ONE sample of cow’s milk is found to contain benzene, that would be the end of our infant formula industry, worth €667 million in 2008.  And current plans are to increase our production of infant formula from 15% to 20% of the world market.

Are bans against fracking really needed?

The shale gas industry is a dirty industry.  In the US, it has a history of operating with poor regulation, poor standards and working practices, many incidences of contamination of ground and surface water, air and land pollution wherever it operates and total disregard for local communities.

Fracking has been banned in many countries, including France, Netherlands, Germany and Bulgaria.  New York State has put a moratorium on the practice and many other states are following suit.

We do not have the regulations in place in Ireland to ensure good practice in this industry.  It is not known if this is even possible, the studies in the US and Europe on the environmental and social impacts of fracking are only beginning to be done.

To allow the gas industry to take over large tracts of land in our country and transform them into dirty mining zones without strict and enforceable regulation would be unbelievably short-sighted, foolish and irresponsible.

GEAI is therefore lobbying nationally and internationally for a ban on hydraulic fracturing unless independent scientific studies verify that it can be undertaken sustainably and will result in no environmental, social or economic harm

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