Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne): I thank all the Deputies for their contributions. Listening to some Deputies one might believe that anyone who has ever stood up in this House advocated or spoke for fracking, which I do not believe is the case - certainly not in my time here.
Deputy McLoughlin produced the Bill and similar Bills were previously produced by a number of other Members of parties and Independents, including Deputies Martin Kenny, Stanley and Boyd Barrett, and the former Deputy, Michael Colreavy. Everyone, with the possible exception of Fianna Fáil, has produced a Bill. Despite having got support last week from Deputy Dooley on behalf of Fianna Fáil for an amendment, we have decided not to proceed with the amendment mainly because of the advice of Deputy McLoughlin who had concerns. I commend him on introducing the Bill.
I will touch on a few issues - I could not possibly go through all the contributions. Deputy Connolly asked about licensing. Three licensing options were awarded in 2011 for a limited work programme reviewing existing data and rock sampling but no drilling. In 2013 due to public concerns, the then Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, placed a moratorium on licensing. Two licensing option holders sought an exploration licence and the Department advised that it could not consider their applications pending the completion of the EPA study and a decision taken by Government as to whether fracking could proceed. There has been no change since then.
There were a number of queries regarding the appointment of CDM Smith. This consulting company was appointed following an open procurement process. CDM Smith is the lead consultant of a consortium comprising technical and academic expertise. The whole EPA study is overseen by a steering committee comprising members of the EPA, An Bord Pleanála, the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Authority and my Department.
Deputy Eamon Ryan is right that the synthesis report will be published in a number of weeks. If the EPA-led synthesis report recommends that we should not proceed with fracking or that there are considerable risks, will Members opposite similarly repudiate it, as they have done in advance of it being published?
Deputy McLoughlin's Bill has afforded the House an opportunity to debate in a healthy and robust manner the genuine public concerns with regard to the potential use of fracking technology in Ireland. As both the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have already said, it has always been the view of Government that our understanding surrounding the use of fracking technologies can be enhanced by scientific examination and peer review.
The EPA-led joint research programme into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction is seeking to do precisely this and it is my intention to publish this report as soon as it is available. It is important to reiterate that throughout this process, no application to engage in unconventional gas exploration has been received by my Department, nor would any such application, if submitted, be considered until the research process has concluded and there has been time to consider its findings.
I appreciate that there has been some concern with regard to the timeframe involved in finalising the research programme and that Deputies would prefer that it had reported earlier. I also would prefer if it had reported earlier. However it is important to ensure that decisions made with regard to the potential use of this technology are fully informed by best scientific research and that the most appropriate solutions to the issues of concern are formulated and implemented.
As the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has outlined, Deputy McLoughlin's Bill, as currently drafted, proposes to prohibit exploration and extraction of petroleum from three different geological strata, shale rock, tight sands and coal seams. Without going into the complexities of geology or legal definitions, if the current wording of the Bill were to become law, the spirit and intention of the Deputy's objective may not in fact be definitively reflected in law. I do not think he or anyone here would like to see that.
As such it is also my strong view that the work of the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Natural Resources would be considerably aided and advanced by being able to consider the outcome of the shortly to be published integrated synthesis report on the environmental impacts of UGEE. Obviously, the decisions will be for this cross-party committee on which the Government does not have a majority. This approach would allow for an appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation to provide the fullest possible basis and understanding for clear and effective legislative proposals.
As both the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have already outlined, the primary aim as legislators is to ensure that we give proper consideration to the issues, avoid unintended consequences and provide legal clarity. I therefore join the Minister in urging the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Natural Resources to scrutinise the EPA proposals in order to consider submissions and hold hearings on this issue of great concern to so many people. This would allow the committee the opportunity to discuss fully and explore the proposals on this matter of public concern. Everything is a function of the committee itself. We are accepting the Bill. I again commend Deputy McLoughlin on bringing the Bill to the floor of the House.
Deputy Tony McLoughlin: As a humble Government backbencher, I had concerns about the amendment. Following consultation with my colleagues the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, it was removed, which I welcome. I am sure it is of great satisfaction to all my colleagues.
Earlier today I spoke to the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Hildegard Naughton. Committee Stage of the Bill will be taken in that committee and I know it will have the support of those who spoke this evening.
I thank the contributors from all sides of the House who debated the Bill and for their kind words of support for it. This support means a lot to me personally and it means a lot to the people whom I represent on this issue. I am delighted to have received cross-party support for the Bill this evening.
After many years of hard work and engagement with local stakeholders on this issue, I am delighted to have been able to present my anti-fracking legislation in the Dáil. The fracking issue is one of major national importance and, as such, the Oireachtas should be dealing with Bills like this. I am even more delighted that now my Bill looks set to be accepted by the Government and will pass on to Committee Stage of the legislative process.
I have been extremely concerned for a long time about the potential damage that fracking could do to our environment, our communities, our waters and our health. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for a clear and unequivocal position on the exploration and extraction of petroleum from shale rock, tight sands and coal seams in the Irish onshore and our internal waters.
It is a very simple Bill and was designed this way for a reason. Its aims are crystal clear. We do not want fracking in our communities in Sligo, Leitrim, Clare and many counties in other parts of the country that were mentioned. We do not want Government to permit this process to occur and we will not stand by while this could be allowed to occur.
I sincerely thank the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, for accepting the Bill. I thank the people who travelled for this evening's debate from Sligo, Leitrim and many other places and who are here in the Gallery. I acknowledge the hard work they put in in helping with the Bill. I thank people such as Kate Ruddock and Eddie Mitchell who have been key in preparing the Bill.
I will be lobbying hard now to ensure this Bill comes before the committee at the earliest opportunity. As I said, I have already spoken to the committee Chairman, Deputy Hildegard Naughton. Some of the Deputies who spoke in this evening's debate are members of that committee. I wish them well in the committee.
Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee
That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 141.
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