Second Stage Speech – Minister Naughten
Private Members Bill on The Prohibition of Petroleum Exploration and Extraction Bill 2016
Check against delivery
27 October 2016
I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to speak on Deputy McLoughlin's Bill concerning the prohibition of petroleum exploration and extraction in the Irish onshore. It is right that we debate this matter and properly examine the issues and concerns surrounding the potential use of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction technology in Ireland, also known as fracking.
As a local T.D., I have made my concerns known at the Joint Oireachtas Committee in the past, but it has always been my view that our understanding surrounding the use of fracking technologies can be enhanced by scientific examination and peer-review. That is why I have defended the fact that we need the scientific evidence to support our action.
The EPA led Joint Research Programme into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction is seeking to do precisely this.
I am on record as having raised concerns with regard to such matters as long term well integrity; the potential release of toxic chemicals from the ground as a result of fracking; and the significant and considerable potential implications that the use of this technology may have on people in rural communities as a consequence of the spatially dispersed pattern of housing in rural areas.
The fact that other jurisdictions, such as Scotland had moved ahead to exploration licencing and then paused to carry out similar research as that being undertaken in Ireland only emphasises the need for such research and the requirement for decisions in matters such as this to be taken in a properly informed scientific manner.
It is my understanding that the Joint Research Programme is looking specifically at the geology of Roscommon, Leitrim, Clare and Fermanagh which is quite unique and very complex in terms of hydrology and geology.
For that reason the EPA has indicated that it was very much focusing on trying to get as much information as possible to capture the complexity of the geology and hydrology, including seismicity or the potential for earthquakes. Issues which I have highlighted in the past. All of these issues are addressed as part of this study.
I appreciate that there has been some concern with regard to the timeframe involved in finalising the Joint Research Programme and that Deputies would prefer that it had reported earlier. Since becoming Minister, I have been pressing officials on the urgency of this report and would have made my views known to those in Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and on the Independent benches who have tabled Bills to legislate on this issue.
They are all well aware of my position which is that I would not and will not oppose the passage of legislation in this area.
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. The debate for me as Minister was never to ban or not ban fracking but to make sure that we legislate that the law does what we want it to do.
As such it my strong view that the work of the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment 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 fracking. I made the point to the chair of the committee, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, that 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 I have already said, Deputy McLoughlin has provided an important opportunity today for debate on this subject. There is clearly cross-party concern regarding the potential use of fracking in Ireland. To be quite clear, there is no great strategic imperative or agenda by Government to pursue the use of fracking. The primary aim, as legislators, is to ensure that we give proper consideration to the issues and evidence, avoid unintended consequences, and provide legal clarity.
Earlier today I said that today has the potential to be a turning point, which in hindsight will be seen as the advent of major cultural, political and technological change in our country.
I use the word 'potential' purposely. I pointed out that Agreements such as Paris may be the prelude to actions, but they are not the deeds themselves. Today I am accepting this Bill as another step in protecting our environment and our future.
Go raibh maith agaibh.