A serious gap in the decision-making process on fracking

How fracking transforms land (Photo: Huffington Post)

Minister for Energy, Pat Rabbitte, gave a speech on 17th April in Royal Irish Academy which confirmed that, despite 1,300 submissions being made to the EPA, the majority of which demanded a study of the health impacts of fracking, the proposed research study on fracking is confined to identifying “best practice in respect of environmental protection for the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques”.
This excludes the stages of pad construction, drilling of wells, gas extraction and treatment, gas transport and site reclamation, all of which add their own risks to communities and to health.  It is therefore far too restrictive.  Many submissions made to the EPA pointed out this fact.  Why is the Minister not listening to the people?
It is also extremely disturbing that no health study is proposed despite the clear wishes of the people.  The EPA study, as described, appears to be an exercise designed to pave the way for fracking.  The project proposed for Leitrim would take over vast tracts of land and industrialise them, changing the landscape and way of life for its communities forever.  No regulations or “best practice” would be able to prevent contamination risks to ground and surface water, air pollution, noise, disturbance and accidents.
Minister Rabbitte went on to state that “The shale revolution is a game-changer”.  We dispute this.  Shale gas does not change the game of burning fossil fuels; it is not clean energy, despite the propaganda of the oil/gas industry; it is not a sustainable source of energy, disappearing once the gas is extracted; the gas produced would belong to the industry, not to the people, and would be sold on the international market at the market price.  Fracking will NOT bring cheap gas to Ireland, nor will it make us energy-secure.
Good Energies Alliance Ireland believes that we should be moving forward on the path towards making Ireland carbon-neutral by 2050 and ensuring that all decisions made on energy sources, uses and allocation of resources reflects this priority.  Shale gas is not the answer!
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent report that “Governments have the power to create markets and policies that accelerate development and deployment of clean energy technologies, yet the potential of these technologies remains largely untapped.”
Ireland has a choice – to go down the fracking route and destroy our rural communities and international reputation or be a world leader in the move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources.

“Shale Gas, enough lobbying !”, says a French MEP’s in a text column

Flickr cc, ALDEADLE, Alberto Novi

Next week, on the 20th of November, the European Parliament is going to discuss the subject of shale gas in plenary. Firstly, the EP is dealing with the “environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities”. Secondly, the EP is dealing with “Industrial, energy and other aspects of shale gas and oil”. On wednesday, the MEPs are going to vote a text.
Corinne Lepage, a French MEP who is a Environment Committee’s member, has published a text column in the newspaper Le Monde. The return of economic growth, cheaper gas for the customers… She refutes these arguments from the petroleum industry.
Why? Speaking about pressure from french oil companies on politicians, she refers probably to the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s report. Next Monday, i.e. one day before the discussion between the Parliament debate, the IEA is going to release a report to defend the so-called benefits of shale gas for economic growth in the US. According to Euractiv, who have read the publication, the IEA said that “These sources could fuel US’s energy independence, and make the country the world’s biggest oil producer by 2017.”
Of course, it’s not a coincidence.
See below a translation of the Corinne Lepage’s text. This a foretaste of the two opposite points of view that will be debated on Tuesday.
You can watch also a short debate between two European politicians on Europarl’s TV.
Shale Gas, enough lobbying !

LE MONDE | November 13rd, 2012, 14h11 • Updated: November 13rd, 2012, 5.29 pm
Corinne Lepage, MEP, Alliance des démocrates et des libéraux pour l’Europe, CAP21′s chairwoman
The time has come for the debate to be more serious when we tackle the economic and financial aspects of shale gas. The attacks (on opposition to shale gas) by geochemist Claude Allègre are merely repeating an absurd argument: that the exploitation of shale gas would boost French growth.
The oil and gas lobby has flooded the media with a new myth – that if we exploit shale gas as the Americans have done, growth will return. This is totally absurd. Firstly, there is a question of timing; in the best scenario for the lobby, gas exploitation could be possible around 2020, which would have no effect on the weakness of the French economy in 2012 and 2013.
Secondly, France is not the United States. The physical conditions of exploitation and the legal constraints are very different. Consequently, the price of a barrel or British Termal Unit (BTU unit of energy Anglo-Saxon) would have no relevance to the price we pay for our gas.
Let’s remember that the Exxon boss admitted in June to losing money at the price at which the BTU was sold which was $2 (€ 1.57), while the current cost of production in the United States is about $7. Very large operating companies are struggling with huge financial difficulties in the United States. What will happen in the future when the companies will be under obligation to recover the methane?
Finally, in the best scenario, the exploitation of shale gas would account for 4 to 5 billion euros, which is less than 10% of our energy bill or our trade deficit. This is important, but not likely to be a game-changer.
So why have these unreasonable figures about reserves that are unknown and virtual jobs, who the authors know are unfounded. Why have at European level, this insane pressure from lobbies to prevent the European Parliament to legislate and implement legislation requiring impact assessment already imposed by Community / common law?
First, because the golden age of shale gas in the United States is nearing its end; in addition to the change in legislation, the dramatic nature of the damage to the environment and communities is very clear to see. Efforts to conceal the nature of the products used and their consequences for air and water are failing. Moreover, the risk of bankruptcy threatens operating companies, who sell their oil too cheaply because of the massive number of wells (this is due to U.S. law making the landowner owner of the land above and below ground).
Therefore, the European market, provided it is without rules, may be worth it, at least until the European citizens become aware of the real damages caused, hence the very strong pressure from American companies.
The second reason is because the value is that of the raw material. Therefore, knowing that the operation is not for tomorrow, the goal is to pre-empt the value of the underground in order to enhance the value of reserves. Indeed, as the holder of the exploration license is the future holder of the operating license, with no further call for tenders possible, the goal is to get as quickly as possible exploration licenses. In reality, it is a creeping expropriation of our collective good.
Assuming another technology other than hydraulic fracturing is possible, that this technology saves water and does not pollute, the interest of France is of course to wait, since, if we have gas, it will still be there later, and have an ever increasing value.
If a clean technology is found, it is especially important not to grant rights which will only have more value later. Or no technology is found, and in this case it is irrational and unreasonable to sacrifice our environment and our agricultural wealth and endanger the health of people living in the vicinity of wells, to create an irreversible situation for the benefit of a temporary exploitation of shale gas & oil, whose disadvantages and economic costs will outweigh the benefits.
Therefore, stop the misinformation and acknowledge that your real motives have nothing to do with the welfare and economic interests of the French people. If shale gas has a strategic value for France, then the research and public identification of reserves should only be done by the State.
(Translation GEAI: Isabelle Léonard and Aedín McLoughlin)

Impacts of shale gas extraction on the environment and human health; the european study updated

Shale gas’ extraction in Krynica, Poland
(cc wikimedia commons, Karol Karolus)

Impacts of shale gas extraction on the environment and on the human health-2012 update
European Parliament, Directorate-general for internal policies, Policy department citizen’s rights and constitutional affairs. 34 pages.
Authors:
Mr Matthias ALTMANN, Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik GmbH
Mr Werner Weindorf, Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik GmbH
Mr Werner ZITTEL, Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik GmbH
Mr Stefan LECHTENBÖHMER, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
“This study discusses the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the environment and on human health updating a study published in 2011. Detailed studies of environmental risks arising from unconventional gas extraction activities have been published recently on European and national levels substantially broadening and deepening the scientific basis. However, knowledge and availability of information are still limited. High risks are identified in a number of environmental aspects, notably when taking into account the cumulative risks of multiple installations typical for unconventional gas activities.”
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Background
Highlighting the higher intensity of drilling, more industrial activity and disruption above ground as well as hydraulic fracturing technology as key features of unconventional gas extraction activities, the International Energy Agency notes: “The environmental and social hazards related to these and other features of unconventional gas development have generated keen public anxiety in many places.” (IEA, 2012).
The European Parliament and other public institutions at European, national and regional level have taken up this important issue in various ways, including the advancement of scientific knowledge and publicly available information on unconventional gas extraction.
[…]
Results
Significant new insights have been gained within the past 12 months. […] In spite of advances in scientific knowledge on unconventional gas issues a number of challenges and major information gaps remain in the different domains touched. While some of these are of a general nature such as toxicological assessments of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, other aspects require detailed information and data specific to a region or to each individual unconventional gas field. The latter notably includes detailed knowledge of the local/regional geology for environmental and health related risk assessments.”

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