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!

 

It’s Christmas… and Leitrim CDP time!

Leitrim County Councillors decide policies on fracking.  

Members of GEAI (in particular Aedín and Eddie) have been really busy this month. The first (pre) draft version of Leitrim County Development Plan, which was not at public consultation stage, was given by the officials to our Councillors and, needless to say, copies managed to find their way into the hands of some campaigners. We were dismayed – a whole section on “Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction” and the wording amounted to a pathway to fracking. No ban on fracking, emphasis on hydraulic fracturing rather than the whole life cycle of unconventional gas development and no mention of Health Impact Assessment (HIA).

What to do? Obviously, all campaigners against fracking would like to see a ban on the whole process. Many kept calling for this and said that nothing less would suffice. However, the Council officials, backed up by legal advice and the results of a court case in Mayo where a ban on mining was disallowed, insisted that the Plan could not include a straightforward ban.
So – members of GEAI and others went about the situation in a different way.

Campaigners insisting on a ban were asked to research the issue and come up with a way to include a complete ban in the Plan.
An alternative view was that if a ban could be included, that would be great. However, if a ban could NOT be included or could be overturned in the future by a Minister, policies had to be put in place that would, as much as possible, safeguard communities and the environment from any adverse impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration or Extraction (UGEE).

 This major task was taken on – the background to the Development Plan was researched and a paper was produced that summarised the background to the situation in Ireland at the moment regarding shale gas and made sure everything relevant was included in the introductory section; various people and organisations were consulted and policies were then worded that, in the view of those involved, went as far as possible to prevent any UGEE projects taking place.

Information sessions and discussions were held with Councillors to make sure that they understood and agreed with what was being proposed.
The main policies proposed in the paper can be summarised as follows:

  • Precautionary principle on all proposals for UGEE projects/operations (this includes preparatory work and deep drilling) where risks are not “determined with sufficient certainty”.
  • Comprehensive HIA on national policy and on local UGEE proposals.
  • No UGEE projects/operations unless “it is scientifically and credibly demonstrated that those projects can be undertaken sustainably whilst also fully protecting the environment and human health”.

Constant contact was kept with Councillors from all parties throughout the process. The paper was also scrutinised by Council Officials.  Our understanding is that all the policies suggested may not be accepted (for various reasons) but significantly, a Health Impact Assessment may now be included. The final draft will be debated by Leitrim County Council on 16th January and will then go forward for public consultation.

The Public will have until end March 2014 to make submissions on the draft Plan.

Full text of submitted paper CLICK HERE

Leitrim County Development Plan 2015 – 2021

Leitrim is in the middle of making its Plan

The making of the Council Development Plan is one of the most important functions of the County Councillors as responsibility for making the Plan, including the various policies and objectives contained within it, rests with the elected members as a reserved function under section 12 of the Act.

Because Leitrim is targeted for unconventional gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the making of the County Development Plan 2015 – 2021 is of great interest to GEAI, other organisations campaigning against fracking, and the wider public.

It is vital that the section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction reflects the concerns of the public concerning unconventional gas developments. The Councillors have been advised by the officials that a simple ban on fracking cannot be put into the Development Plan; this is being disputed, especially as Donegal County Councillors have already inserted a ban in their Plan. Advice given to the council is that a ban can be overturned by the Minister. Also, the case of Mayo County Council is also quoted, where a judge ruled against a blanket ban on mining.

GEAI considers that, whether or not a ban on fracking is specifically included in the Development Plan, it is essential to also include some very strong policies to safeguard Leitrim communities from fracking. Such processes as Health Impact Assessment and the application of the Precautionary Principle can be used to prevent short-term proposals to exploit shale gas, causing contamination of our air and waters and damaging the health of people and animals.

Leitrim County Councillors have a difficult task ahead of them. The section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction must satisfy the public’s need for protection from the environmental and social damage caused by unconventional gas development while “taking on board and implementing relevant national and regional policies” (see below).

WE WISH THEM EVERY SUCCESS IN THIS ENDEAVOUR!

Progress of the Plan is as follows:
December ‘13:
The Plan is at first draft stage – the officials have produced a first draft which can be considered and amended by the Councillors, but must be voted on by mid-January.
Late January ’14:
Officials prepare draft with amendments
February:
Draft goes for public consultation, submissions invited from public (10 weeks)
April:
Officials prepare Managers Report on any submissions or observations
July:
Councillors consider Managers Report. Councillors may accept or amend the draft.
September:
Advertise any material alteration of draft
October:
Submissions on material alterations invited. (4 weeks)
November:
New Manager’s Report prepared
December:
Councillors consider Manager’s Report
January ‘15: Plan published.

BACKGROUND TO THE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The Department of Environment “Guidelines for Planning Authorities, June 2007” provides a good overview of the purpose of the Development Plan and the role of elected members and Local Authority officials. The following gives short snapshots of some content of interest to us:

Role of Development Plan

“The plan creates the vision for the area it covers, specifies the type, amount and quality of development needed to achieve that vision and seeks to protect and enhance the environment and amenities.”

Role of members (Councillors):

“Members must have an active and driving role in the entire process, from its inception to its finalisation. They must listen to and take account of the views and wishes of the communities they represent. They must adopt the development plan at the end of the process. ..Crucially, there is an onus on elected members and the executive to fulfil their responsibilities and functions in the common interest, adhering to proper planning principles and facilitating the sustainable development of their area.”

Supporting National Policies

“Development Plans should take on board and implement relevant national and regional policies in a manner consistent with the NSS and regional guidelines if the planning system as a whole is to function effectively. The Development Plan must be part of a systematic hierarchy of land use and spatial plans, including the National Spatial Strategy and regional planning guidelines. It must also be informed by the plans and strategies of the Government and other public agencies in general.”

“It is important that development plans fully support national policies so that all local authorities play their full part in the achievement of national objectives.”

Protecting the Environment

“The Development Plan will set out policies for the protection of the environment and heritage and is an important source of information for landowners, developers, communities and members of the public in this regard.”

“Local authorities have a key role to play in regard to preserving the natural heritage of their areas arising from the legal responsibilities placed on them and from the increasing public awareness of the importance of nature conservation at local level.”

Sustainable Development

“Sustainable development means ensuring that all development is sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. As such, the development plan must offer clear guidance on sustainable development policies and objectives, both national and local, which address the various issues involved, such as climate change, waste management, transport, urban development, sustainable communities, use of natural resources etc.”

“Accommodating new development needs in an environmentally sustainable manner is a key way in which development plans can contribute to the achievement of sustainability.”

Public Consultation

“Councils should also actively involve citizens in the whole process of making the plan, especially those who may not normally contribute or engage in the process. Councils should consider innovative methods to encourage as wide a public consultation as possible. It is vital that, from an early stage, as much public and political consensus is built around the strategic direction the new plan is to take.”

“While section 11(2)(c) of the Act does not specifically require the preparation of background papers at the pre-draft stage, the compilation of a single, over-arching and concise “Issues Paper” to accompany the initial notification that a new development plan is to be prepared, is strongly recommended at that stage as a means of presenting key information on strategic planning and heritage issues and inviting public submissions on differing policy approaches.”

64% of EU citizens against development of Shale Gas

   Irish Voice heard in Brussels meeting
The results of an EU on-line questionnaire on fracking were presented at a meeting on 7th June in Brussels, attended by Irish representatives of the campaign against fracking.  Almost 23,000 people responded to the questionnaire, a large majority of which agree on the lack of adequate legislation, the need for public information and the lack of public acceptance of unconventional fossil fuels (e.g. shale gas).  When the responses were weighted to reflect EU Member States’ population, they indicated that 64% of EU citizens thought that shale gas should not be developed in Europe at all.
Following presentation of the results, a broadly-based discussion of the environmental impacts of fracking took place.  The health impacts of fracking and the importance of applying the precautionary principle to proposals to frack were emphasised by the Irish representatives which included Dr Geralyn McCarron (Fermanagh), Geraldine Ring (Cork) and Dr Aedin McLoughlin (Leitrim).
[Image: Geralyn and Aedín with FOE outside Commission building]
Geralyn + Aedin in BrusselsDr McCarron spoke about the impacts of contamination from fracking on a rural community she has studied in Australia.  “There was a range of symptoms related to neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system), including severe fatigue, weakness, headaches, numbness and paraesthesia (pins and needles.  Almost all the children suffered from headaches and for over half of these the headaches were severe.   Other symptoms reported among the population included increases in cough, chest tightness, rashes, difficulty sleeping, joint pains, muscle pains and spasms, nausea and vomiting.”
Dr McCarron said that Health Impact Assessments, carried out with internationally recognised protocols, must be an integral part of every unconventional gas development proposal.
Aedín McLoughlin from GEAI  pointed out that throughout Europe, proposals for exploration included drilling and fracking in border areas (e.g. Leitrim/Fermanagh.   “Such exploration must not proceed without a common policy and regulatory framework between the two jurisdictions involved.  Water knows no borders and the areas targeted include the two major waterways of the  Shannon and Erne Rivers.”
She also stressed the importance of the precautionary principle and how it must be applied:  Proposals for on-shore unconventional gas exploration to be considered new plans or programmes by EU Member States and Strategic Environmental Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals as per  SEA Directive 2001; Health Impact Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals; and Environmental Impact Studies to be carried out on all stages of fracking, to include studies of the cumulative impacts of such developments.  “Finally, we consider that a Moratorium on unconventional gas exploration or extraction must be implemented in each Member State until such studies show that environmental degradation or adverse public health impacts will not result from such projects,” she concluded.
Geraldine Ring questioned the Commission’s proposal to develop a risk management framework. “Fracking carries with it risks, but also realities. One of these realities is the huge volume of flowback water and we know from the US, Canada and Australia that there is no best practice to treat it.” She asked how the Commission planned to deal with such realities.
She also referred to the gaps that have been already identified by the Commission in existing Directives.  “The current EU regulatory framework at both exploration and production phase has a number of gaps or potential gaps,” she said.  “A study published by the Commission in September of last year showed gaps in at least eight key environmental acquis, including the Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directive, the Mining Waste Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment directive which is currently under review.”
Aedín also visited the EU Parliament and had a discussion about the meeting with MEP Marian Harkin’s staff. Marian Harkin kindly sponsored her travel costs.

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