Ireland considers submitting to worldwide frack-up – Éibhir Mulqueen
Reserves of natural gas that could produce a multiple of what has come from the Kinsale gas field lie underground in parts of Connacht and Co Clare but environmentalists at www.what-the-frack.org are gearing up to prevent three exploration companies in their push to develop Ireland’s first onshore gas field.
The companies are proponents of the controversial extraction process known as fracking and at least two are seeking exploration drilling licences as a follow-up to their current licensing options which run out on February 28.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, enlists a pressurised mix of water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale rock, raising popular fears of localised earthquakes and contamination of water sources – with gas or with the water mixes used in the process.
In the US, this new windfall of natural gas is called the ‘shale gale’. It is the most significant development in energy technology so far this century, accounting in little over a decade for over a quarter of US natural gas supply. “Recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap larger reserves – perhaps a century’s worth – in the shale under our feet”, President Obama has said.
Commentators focus on the fact that efficient use of gas emits less than half the CO2 per unit of electricity, of coal, falsely claiming it heralds an environmental dawn. They fail to note that without fast elimination of both gas and coal we seem set to breach the two degrees Centigrade limit to increased global temperatures necessary to avoid runaway climate change.
In West Clare, Enegi Oil’s 495 sq km exploration area is “a highly prospective asset”, the company has said, with “a strong best-case investment profile”. The recoverable gas estimate is between 1.49 trillion cubic feet (TCF) and 3.86 TCF. In comparison, the almost-depleted Kinsale gas field, the largest single hydrocarbon discovery in Ireland to date, has produced 1.75 TCF since 1978.
Meanwhile, Tamboran Resources has stated there is potentially 2.2 TCF of shale gas in Leitrim. It too has moved to get a licence for exploratory drilling. Third in the race to develop Ireland’s first onshore gas field is Langco (Lough Allen Natural Gas Company), concentrating on west Cavan.
The industry is scrambling to undo the groundwater-contamination reputational legacy of fracking in the US, extolling the virtues of new extraction fluids. One such, according to Halliburton, uses the same acids and enzymes found in fruit and vegetables “to create one of the most innovative and environmentally safe fracture solutions ever conceived”. A Halliburton executive has drunk a glass of the mix and Langco chief executive Dr Martin Keeley has said he is up for sampling his company’s fracking fluid.
The Government has remained equivocal about the issue, waiting on a second report from the Environmental Protection Agency on the implications of fracking. But Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte has said the delays at the Corrib gas project at Rossport due to the Shell to Sea campaign were damaging. None of the major oil companies applied for the last round of offshore exploratory licences. Energy security as well as revenue and jobs will be part of the mix when the Government decides.
An Exxon Mobil executive has warned that Europe-wide opposition to fracking would expose it to energy insecurity. “By 2030, Europeans are expected to be significantly more reliant on imports of natural gas than they are today”, Andrew P Swiger told the New York Times. “Europe’s unconventional natural resources can provide the opportunity to offset this changing mix with domestic supplies”, he said.
Ranged against the deep pockets of the exploration companies and their promises of wealth and jobs is an alliance of community-based environmentalists. What-the-frack.org is garnering support with information meetings, newsletters and screenings of the US award-winning documentary ‘Gaslands’.
Susan Griffin, a founder member of the aligned Clare Fracking Concerned and a UCC lecturer, was living in France when she initially heard about fracking, as groups became active at a local and national level.
“All ages from the very young to OAPs were manning information- and awareness-raising stands in their local Saturday markets. In towns and villages, banners with ‘Non au Gaz de Schiste’ [No to shale gas] were commonplace.”
Despite having huge shale gas reserves, France banned fracking in 2011 and President Francois Hollande has since upheld the decree.
“Upon learning that Ireland, and more specifically my own county, Clare, was also a fracking candidate I returned home to help raise awareness of the possible effects of fracking such was my fear of its potential disastrous consequences on our water, health, agriculture and environment in general”, adds Griffin.
“Everyone’s help is needed. Oil companies have substantial financial power and so we in Clare and Ireland have to assemble and exploit our huge
The Clare Group can be contacted at email@example.com. The western-based anti-fracking alliance is contactable at www.what-the-frack.org