Natural Gas Fracking - Ireland

Fracking refers to "hydraulic fracturing", whereby rock is fractured apart using a high pressure mixture to release gas, usually shale gas. Shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks that can be rich resources of petroleum and natural gas. Fracking has been extensively used in several European nations, including Denmark, Lithuania, Romania, the United Kingdom and Poland. However, its development as a source of energy has caused significant concerns over its environmental, economic and social impacts.

Potentially Positive Impacts

  • From an economic viewpoint fracking of shale gas could contribute to Ireland's future energy needs.
  • Fracking allows drilling firms to access difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. In the US it has significantly boosted domestic oil production and lowered gas prices. It is estimated to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has offered an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.

Potentially Negative Impacts

  • Fracking has been shown to pollute groundwater with potentially disastrous consequences for human health. The worry is that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. 
  • Environmental campaigners say that fracking is simply distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy. Fracking is therefore encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.
  • There are worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors.
  • Finally, fracking uses large amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site at significant environmental cost.

Fracking in Ireland

In Ireland, shale gas has been detected in an area known as the Northwest Ireland Carboniferous Basin, which comprises parts of counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh. In these areas, where tourism is an important part of the local economy, shale gas exploration could have had significant impacts on the local environment and economy. However, protests and activism in Ireland helped to develop and pass the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Act 2017, banning onshore fracking in Ireland. 

Recent debates on whether the Shannon LnG terminal project should proceed, which would be sourced from US fracked gas, have re-highlighted the issue of Ireland's level of acceptance on fracking and its impact on the climate, as well as other topics focused on energy security and overseas carbon footprint. To view the most recent debate, on this topic, in the Houses of the Oireachtas, click here.

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