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 Header Item Hydraulic Fracturing Policy (Continued)
 Header Item Energy Policy

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] I do not know how the Minister of State can defend the EPA given that it has been broadly exposed in the eyes of a lot of people on this matter. The solution is that the process should be called off.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh It is important to emphasise that the EPA is independent of the Government. Instead of reading out the formal response I will take up the point made by Deputy Clare Daly. A decision was taken in 2011 to inform ourselves as policy agents and as legislators on the best thing to do on foot of the research and based on the best evidence available. I have taken a decision to approach the steering committee to produce an interim report. Deputy Clare Daly is correct that it was not part of the original thought process but it is important. The original timeframe was to have phases 1 and 2 completed by July 2016 and to dovetail them into a report in 2016. That is not going to happen. A tendering process has not been initiated for phase 2. In light of that, I am asking the steering committee to examine the significant body of evidence produced and to draw up an interim report and that will give us time to take stock of the information gathered. Deputy Clare Daly indicated in her question that 50% of research on fracking has been done since 2012 but we need to evaluate, take stock and produce an interim report to consider the information that has been garnered in the time afforded in the first instance.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The problem is that stock has been taken of this process so far by people with greater technical expertise than anybody in this House and we can say with absolute confidence and without fear of contradiction that fracking is a tainted process. We know, for example, that Queen's University pulled out at the start. We know that the Dáil was misled about the university's involvement in the process, having been told of its continued involvement in June 2015 when that was not the case. We know the role of CDM Smith Ireland, which was already highlighted in the previous question. In addition, we know that the peer-reviewed studies and information on this horrendous practice should lead us in the direction of saying "stop the runaway train", but from his response the Minister of State seems to say the EPA is independent - it has said it will not do an interim report but is ploughing on regardless - and that he will ask it to do a report. Does the Minister of State have the power to direct the EPA to do it? In light of existing evidence, why would he not just direct the EPA to stop because this does have the hallmark of becoming a runaway train? We know that the evidence produced since the terms of reference were written is that 69% of research on water quality found potential or actual contamination. Those are most serious issues and all of the peer-reviewed research says we should abandon fracking not just get an interim report.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Queen's University is still involved in a reviewing capacity but it was not able to commit to the original proposition for funding reasons. It is important to point out that the information is garnered on a cross-Border basis. Some of those involved include the British Geological Survey, universities in Northern Ireland, UCD and the EPA. We have a collection of expertise and they form the steering committee. I will make formal contact with the steering group and ask it to produce a review. That will happen. I have spoken to the officials and indicated I would like that to happen sooner rather than later.

A body of evidence is available from the information that has been garnered that will address my initial fears. When I got this post on the very first day I was answering a question asked by Deputy Colreavy and I put my reservations on the floor of the House. We are a small country and we have plenty of offshore capacity. We have had 42 expressions of interest for licences in terms of the Atlantic margin offshore. As to whether I have reservations about fracking, yes I do, and I want us to be clear and coherent in terms of getting the review and to take stock of the significant body of work that has been completed today, even though that was not part of the original terms of reference.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly If the Minister of State has concerns I do not know why we are going ahead with fracking. It seems to be a case of I have started so I will finish, which makes no sense. Let us be clear about the involvement of Queen's University. At the Oireachtas joint committee last week the EPA admitted that it had misled the House in regard to the major change in the status of the involvement of Queen's University in the process. It promoted Queen's University with the intention of beefing up the supposed independence of the research study. That is a fact. It is on the record. It is undisputed at this stage. Throwing more money at the process at this stage is very irresponsible, in particular when 88% of the studies done since the terms of reference were put in place found that air quality had elevated pollutant emissions and 84% of the original studies on health risks found signs of harm or indications of potential harm to human health and yet the latter is not being considered as part of the research. The biggest problem with fracking is not even being factored into the equation. It is an absolute disgrace that the programme is continuing. If the Minister of State is steering the ship he should just throw the anchor over and not even allow it to sail forward any further.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Let us be clear, this is a significant piece of work that will be completed by the end of January. It will cover areas such as those mentioned by Deputy Clare Daly, namely, groundwater, surface water, associated ecosystem, seismicity, air quality, impacts and mitigation measures for project operations and a regulatory framework for environmental protection. Significant work is being done so let us find out what has been evaluated and researched and then inform ourselves as legislators.

As someone who lives in the north west and has plenty of contacts in south Donegal and Leitrim I have my own personal fears and concerns about the process. We are a small island with plenty of offshore capacity. In terms of geographical magnitude we are the fourth largest country in Europe when our sea area is taken into account. I acknowledge the legitimate concerns of people in this House and within the communities that could be affected. I have asked the steering committee to produce a mid-term review and to take stock of the findings we have in the first instance.

Energy Policy

 42. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White the extent by which he expects to reduce dependency on fuel or energy imports with particular reference to the utilisation of non-fossil fuels as a means of achieving national fuel security and reliability, and to reduce dependency on fossil fuels over the next ten years, by year; if this is in line with projections and requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44819/15]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The question attempts to focus on emerging needs in terms of renewable energy, in particular in the aftermath of the Paris conference on climate change and the extent to which it is possible to put in place a structure that will stand the country well in the future.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The overarching objective of the Government's energy policy is to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of competitively priced energy to all consumers as our energy system undergoes the radical transformation required to meet our climate change policy objectives. A well balanced fuel mix that provides reliable energy, minimises costs and protects against supply disruptions and price volatility is essential to Irish consumers as we make this transition. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector will be reduced by between 80% and 95%, compared to 1990 levels in line with the EU objective. By the end of the century in 2100 our greenhouse gas emissions will have fallen to zero or below. While fossil fuels will remain a progressively decreasing part of the energy mix as we transition to a largely decarbonised energy system by 2050, significant progress is already being made in increasing the share of renewables in that mix.

Our immediate focus is on the period to 2020. In addition to the EU's 2020 targets for emissions reductions, the 2009 EU renewable energy directive sets Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020. Ireland is committed to achieving this target through meeting 40% of electricity demand, 12% of heat and 10% of transport from renewable sources of energy, with the latter transport target also being legally binding.

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