Climate Action Bill 2015 – All smoke, no fire?

Environmental-Damage-2“Transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the end of 2050.” In the context of the climate crisis now confronting the earth, this is the ONLY aspiration of the Government in the Climate Action Bill 2015. There are no targets beyond the 2020 carbon reduction targets imposed on us by Europe. The opportunity to lead the way towards a truly significant and morally just pathway to a carbon neutral future has been thrown away.

Where is the echo of the Taoiseach’s commitment in New York at the UN Climate Summit last September, “We will only succeed in tackling climate change if we adopt a sustainable and truly collective approach, one that is ambitious but fair, that is challenging but achievable”?

Where are his “long-term objectives for 2050 of an 80 per cent reduction across electricity, transport and built environment”?

Where is the promise “We will continue our efforts, for example through our Origin Green Programme, to drive carbon efficiency and shape the international approach to sustainable agriculture and food production”?

This Government has failed to show commitment, imagination or leadership in the drafting of this Bill. Instead, they have kicked to touch, ensuring that no hard decisions on climate change or carbon emissions will be taken before the next election. Even after that, all that is proposed is the setting up of an Expert Advisory Council with the task of putting forward a Mitigation Plan and an Adaptation Plan in two years, bringing us post 2017 before the public can even consider their proposals or make submissions.

Has anyone in Government even considered that such Plans must undergo Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) and conform to the Aarhus Convention on public participation in decision-making? Is there no appreciation of the fact that business cannot go on as usual? How long in reality will it take to make tough decisions if no vision is put forward, no ambitious and exciting targets are proposed, no concept of climate justice is even mentioned?

The Government has missed a chance of rallying the Irish people around the cry of the earth in trouble. Instead they give us Expert Advisory Councils manned by the usual suspects; they give us Plans; they give us “Transition Statements”. We want action! Only yesterday, a leading climate scientist, Michael Mann said, “Ireland should make a bold statement to the world to show it is possible to thrive economically while making deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Does this Climate Action Bill make a “bold statement”? No, it does not!

Victory! No drilling in Belcoo

11th August – Victory Night in Belcoo

What a night!  Campaigners in Belcoo were still trying to take it in at 9 o’clock tonight.  The campaign has won its first battle and a halt has been put to Tamboran’s attempt to drill an exploratory well without planning permission or environmental impact assessment (EIA).  All weekend, campaigners were tense, wondering what this week would bring.  There was a strong feeling that, if permission was given for drilling, the rig would arrive within hours and a confrontation seemed inevitable. There were few smiles and a lot of worry.

Then, all of a sudden, the weight was lifted off everyone’s shoulders – the verdict was given from Stormont and a big cheer went up from the camp.  “We did it!  We’ve won!” People were hugging each other, beaming, this was something that everyone could rejoice in – young, old, from both traditions, from all parties or none – it was an amazing scene.  Heavy showers were not even felt.  And to mark this new beginning, a rainbow framed the land beside the camp.

“Permitted development rights do not apply”
Rainbow in belcoo 110814

Rainbow in Belcoo this evening

The Minister for Environment (N.I.), Mark H Durkan in a short speech had given his judgement.   “I have given very careful consideration to Tamboran’s proposal to drill a core of rock from Cleggan Quarry near Belcoo and whether this is permitted development under current legislation. I have concluded that this is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) development requiring full planning permission and that permitted development rights do not apply. In making this assessment I have been mindful of my Department’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected at all times and that full consideration is give to any likely significant environmental impacts of such a proposal.”

He also said, “In arriving at this decision I believe I must proceed on the basis of a precautionary principle.”  This is an important statement.  It means that the industry must prove that the proposed project is safe; this includes evaluating all risks and proposing prevention and management strategies.

We have won

But tonight is not a night for too much analysis other than knowing that, while an important battle is won, the war continues.  For tonight we can rejoice and be glad.  The overwhelming feeling is love – love of the land, love of each other, even love of this campaign that has brought us together, regardless of creed, class or culture.  And we have won!

We have shown it can be done!


OPINION: The Irish Fracking Process has begun

The Irish Fracking process has begun

Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) views the latest developments  where preparations for shale gas exploratory drilling has begun in Belcoo as a National, not local issue.

Dr Aedin McLoughlin, Director GEAI, expressed extreme dismay.  “Make no mistake about it – any exploratory drilling, with or without hydraulic fracturing, is part of the overall fracking process,” she said.  “An exploratory well without hydraulic fracturing leads to more wells with “test fracks”, leading to full fracking as shale gas is extracted.  In Belcoo, the first stage is starting, with the industry bleating their mantra, “This is only drilling, it’s not fracking!”  When is fracking not fracking?  When the industry wants to hide what is obvious – that a good result from this first exploratory well could lead on to more wells and more wells and a full-scale fracking operation with all its environmental and social issues.”

“Another extraordinary issue,” she continued.  “ I understand that the results of this well in Belcoo, County Fermanagh will be taken by the Petroleum Affairs Division in Dublin as fulfilling the work obligations for the Irish Government’s Licencing Options given to Tamboran Resources which expired in February 2013.  What does this mean?  It means that Tamboran, once this well is drilled and the core analysed, could apply to Dublin for a full exploratory licence and claim that they have fulfilled the conditions to enable them to get one, then proceed in Leitrim and the rest of the NorthWest, even though the well drilled was in another jurisdiction.  It’s as if the opinion is – sure, there’s no difference between the geology so forget EU transborder regulations!”

GEAI wishes to put everyone on alert.  “The way this operation is approached shows the contempt of the industry for the environment, for the community, even for the law of the land.  No Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the overall proposal for shale gas exploration and extraction; no Planning Permission for exploratory drilling; no published plan for the safe operation of the process or disposal of wastes;  no Environmental Impact Assessment, no consultation with the local community or public representatives.  Ireland  – this is the tip of the iceberg – if the industry can go ahead with exploration without putting all those safeguards in place, what is in store for us if fully-fledged fracking operations start?”




Tamboran Prepares for Drilling in Belcoo

drilling rig
It is finally happening! 

Without a Strategic Impact Assessment (SEA) of the proposals for Fracking in Northern Ireland, without Planning Permission, without consultation with residents or, indeed, public representatives, Tamboran Resources are moving in machinary to the Acheson and Glover quarry in Belcoo, County Fermanagh in order to construct a drilling pad and operate a drilling rig as part of their proposal to develop shale gas in Ireland.

According to a letter put through doors in Belcoo by Tamboran Resources on 21st July:

  • The proposal is to drill an exploratory well, 15cm (6″) wide and 750 m (2,500 ft) deep.
  • They will get core samples throughout the length of the bore which they will study to find out the gas (methane) content and its suitability for extraction.
  • There will be NO FRACKING during this stage.

What does this mean – is it safe?  Are there no consequences for the residents or environment?  The following are the steps in this exploratory stage:

  • The operator arrives on site with his first 120 trucks, security people, fencing, razor wire, etc.
  • Builds a pad.
  • Brings on the rig, lighting, cement, portacabins, toilets, generators, compressors
  • Brings on the drilling mud.
  • Drills the well through aquifer.
  • Cements in conductor and then surface casing (you hope)
  • Drills down to 750 m or further
  • Drilling waste collected according to good practice (you hope)
  • Mud and drill waste transported by truck to local waste facility (dump). (This caused radioactive monitors to go off repeatedly in the states.)  Belcoo has high Radon incidence, indicating the presence of Radium or Uranium underground.  The drill waste will be more radioactive than surface soil.

Having said all that, we are not talking about a huge volume of waste.  The core volume would be around 15 cubic metres; drilling mud will add to that.  Total volume less than an average tanker (30 cubic metres).

Environmental issues (not definitive):
  • Composition of drilling mud – chemicals transported on public roads.
  • Protection of aquifer.
  • Safe collection of drilling waste.
  • Disposal of mud drill waste with high radioactivitycontent, heavy metals and possibly petroleum products.
  • Disturbance of community, stress.
Political Response

Statement from Environment Minister Mark H Durkan:

“Under planning rules, this type of exploratory drilling may fall under ‘permitted development’. However, before the company is given permission to proceed, a full “screening” process under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations will be required to ensure that there is no potential for significant environmental impact. I will ensure that this screening process is rigorous and definitive before permitted development rights are considered.”

  • Does this mean that Tamboran Resources cannot drill before they do an EIA?
  • What is the difference between “full screening process” and an EIA?
  • What regulations?  Who determines them?
  • What are “permitted development rights”?
Other factors:
  • If the results of this operation show that the area is suitable for shale gas extraction, Tamboran Resources most likely will apply for further exploratory licences in preparation for shale gas extraction.  Such exploration operations will include high volume hydraulic fracturing (FRACKING)
  • The Petroleum Affairs Divison in Dublin have confirmed that they will accept the results of the Belcoo drilling as fulfilling the requirement of work to be carried out in the context of the Licencing Options originally granted to Tamboran, which expired in February 2013.  This would open the door for further exploratory licences to be granted for drilling in Leitrim/Cavan.





Fracking by Stealth – it’s starting in Antrim!

It’s called Fracking by Stealth – companies apply for permission to drill, not to frack. They take the position that drilling is harmless and the UK Government agrees with them – no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) needed for drilling. And even if eventually EIAs will be required, it will be for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) stage only.

Let’s look at what can now be done without EIA

• The operator arrives on site with his first 120 trucks.

• Builds a pad.

• Brings on the rig, lighting, cement, portocabins, accommodation block, toilets, generators, compressors

• Brings on the drilling mud with drilling chemicals.

• Drills the well through an aquifer.

• Cements in conductor and then surface casing (you hope) – nobody check in the UK – there are no regulations and no inspection.

• Drills through intermediate stage

• Cements in Intermediate casing (you hope) – nobody check in the UK – there are no regulations and no inspection.

• Maybe an Formation Integrity Test executed. (Tests quality of casing)

• Drills to final depth (a mile or more)

• Cements in production casing (this definitely happens as it is needed for operator)

• Mud drill waste all transported by truck to local waste facility (this caused radioactive monitors to go off repeatedly in the States).

• Brings on the kit needed for fracking, sand (silica), chemicals in their raw 100% form, water abstraction ready – if no local supply, compressors for getting to 6,000+ psi.

• Then he is ready to frack and applies for permission to do that.

Then – AND ONLY THEN – is an EIA required in the UK under the “old” EU regulations. And now, with the complete climb down by the Commission, even this is not necessary!

Fracking by Stealth will happen because it is a good way to divert attention away and means the planners have to pass the initial permission because they need proper reasons for rejecting and just drilling a hole in the ground is hard for them to reject and so they don’t.

Planning permission for drilling has now been granted to oil and gas company Infrastrata to drill an exploratory well in County Antrim. No EIA required.

(Thanks to Mike Hill for details of drilling and title “Fracking by Stealth”)


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