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Issue No. 105 - June 1, 2017

1. Irish (onshore) fracking ban bill passes final stage in Dáil, proceeds to Seanad

The bill to ban fracking in Ireland, now called the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016 has passed the final (report) stage in the Dáil and will now be considered by the Seanad in the coming weeks. If passed by the Seanad, it will return to the Dáil for enactment.

Following a brief Dáil debate on Wednesday, May 24, which focused on amendments to extend the proposed fracking ban to include offshore petroleum exploration and extraction, the discussion was suspended when time ran out at 10:15 p.m. The debate resumed at 10:00 a.m. on May 31, with a continuation of the debate on the proposed amendments.

The debate from May 24 discussed the report stage amendments. (For further details, see the transcript and the video.) While a number of deputies, notably Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit), argued that the same environmental and health risks associated with onshore fracking also applied to offshore fracking, and that Ireland "should be taking a lead by saying we will not engage in either onshore or offshore fracking", others expressed support for limiting the scope of the bill to onshore fracking in order to ensure its timely passage.

There was cross-party agreement expressed on the need for a future ban on offshore fracking, and several deputies indicated that they would propose or support legislation for that purpose. Nevertheless, Deputy Martin Kenny (Sinn Féin), on behalf of Brian Stanley, TD (SF) withdrew a proposed amendment with respect to offshore fracking, on the grounds that including it would complicate and delay the passage of the bill. Deputy Eamon Ryan (Green Party) said that while he agreed with the need to ban both onshore and offshore fracking, he supported the withdrawal of the amendments in order to secure the passage of the bill and have "cast-iron certainty" that onshore fracking would be banned. Minister of State Seán Kyne then proposed to suspend debate due to the late hour and asked the deputies to withdraw the amendments that would include offshore fracking in the prohibition, noting that the original bill was limited to onshore fracking.

Following the May 24 debate, Eamon Ryan T.D. (Green Party) proposed an additional amendment (dated May 30) extending the scope of the bill to include offshore fracking. Deputy Boyd Barrett opened the discussion on May 31 (see also the transcript and video above) by questioning how this additional amendment had been allowed at the report stage, and indicating that he and other deputies might also have proposed amendments if they had known it was possible. Deputy Boyd Barrett, pressing one of his amendments, said: "The ban should extend to the offshore. I fear the Government and Fianna Fáil probably want to leave the door open to offshore fracking and that is why it is important to press it, as the arguments apply both onshore and offshore."

The amendments to extend the ban to include offshore fracking were defeated but attracted the support of between 12 and 15 deputies respectively.

The bill was then received for final consideration and agreed to following expressions of support from all parties.

Applause from the gallery was accepted as an exceptional measure.

Below some further media coverage:

2. Studies reveal extent of methane emissions from Canadian oil and gas operations

Two recent studies highlight the extent of methane emissions leaking from Canadian oil and gas operations, in British Columbia and Alberta. Both studies are discussed in this article by Dr. David Suzuki, whose foundation cooperated with St. Francis Xavier University to conduct a study which measured fugitive emissions from oil and gas operations in British Columbia and found them to be at least 2.5 times higher than reported by the B.C. government, and maybe much higher.

This field study, which is currently available and under review in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP), used gas detection instruments mounted on a "sniffer truck" to measure and detect fugitive emissions in northeastern BC, travelling more than 8,000 km. The researchers found that methane emissions for the Montney region alone (which represents 55% of BC's oil and gas production) were greater than what the provincial government had estimated for the entire industry. This research was followed up by measuring point-source methane emissions from more than 170 oil and gas sites.

The study found that oil and gas operations in Montney leak and intentionally release more than 111,800 tonnes of methane into the air annually – equivalent to burning 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. As Dr. Suzuki points out: "This research shows that the oil and gas sector is the largest source of climate pollution in BC, surpassing commercial transportation—and it contradicts claims that natural gas or LNG is a clean fuel or that it's useful to help us transition from other fossil fuels."

The other recent report, conducted by Canadian NGO Environmental Defence, calls for strong federal regulation of methane emissions from Canada's oil and gas sector. The report highlights research commissioned by the Alberta Energy Regulator, which showed that methane emissions in Alberta are 60% higher than the industry claims, and emphasises the health, environmental and economic benefits to regulating methane across Canada.

The analysis also outlines how the energy sector, which accounts for half of Canada’s methane emissions, is actively pushing against regulations that would require existing oil and gas facilities to reduce methane emissions beyond voluntary actions. According to Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence, "The oil and gas industry is underreporting methane emissions and at the same time lobbying federal and provincial governments to weaken methane regulations."

GreenPath estimated that emissions from five of the six areas surveyed was 490 kilotonnes of methane for pneumatic devices alone. This is the equivalent to the emissions of over 9 million more cars on the road over 20 years.
The research highlights the fact that the methane emissions from Alberta oil and gas facilities alone are worth about $70 million and would heat 200,000 homes in the province.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas with a global warming potential up to 105 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.

3. US fracked gas feeding Europe's petrochemical manufacturing

The Trans-Atlantic Plastics Pipeline: How Pennsylvania’s Fracking Boom Crosses the Atlantic
A new report from Food & Water Watch and its sister organisation, Food & Water Watch Europe, traces the links between fracking and pipelines in Pennsylvania and a plan to ship gas liquids across the Atlantic for use in European petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

Ineos, Britain's largest privately-held company, has contracted with US-based drilling gas drilling companies to supply it with ethane, a gas liquid used to make plastics. The first shipment of shale gas, to supply the company's plants in Norway and Scotland, arrived in late 2016.

The Food & Water Watch report points out that the petrochemical industry presents environmental hazards apart from those associated with gas drilling, and that the Ineos plant in Grangemouth in Scotland was rated as "poor" by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which pointed to nine separate incidents in 2016, including several major discharges of sulpher. Last month, the Grangemouth plant had a substantial ethylene leak that forced the evacuation of employees. Other companies in the supply chain also have poor environmental records. Range Resources, one of the drilling companies in Pennsylvania, has been charged with over 500 health and safety violations between 2005 and 2016 and fined almost $21 million by state regulators.
Fossil fuel-based gas is incompatible with EU climate objectives, with the obligations resulting from the Paris Agreement and with the need to act quickly to tackle climate change.
The Rafnes cracker is equipped with 10 small and 2 large furnaces that process up to 650,000 tonnes (1.4 billion pounds) of ethane annually to create ethylene.

The exports of gas to Ineos will drive further fracking in Pennsylvania, and will require the construction of an additional pipeline, Mariner East 2, which is opposed by communities along its 350-mile route, concerned about the public safety threats posed by leaks and explosions. The company behind the new Mariner East pipelines, had a higher rate of oil spills than any of its competitors in the United States.

"Fracking is creating a public health and climate disaster while propping the highly polluting plastics industry," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe. "People on both sides of the Atlantic are suffering the costs, with extremely detrimental effects to our global environment – everything from air pollution and climate altering emissions to the proliferation of plastic waste can be tied to the companies benefiting from this poisonous process."

Turning ethane into plastic is an energy-intensive process that requires separation from the other hydrocarbons present in natural gas. A petrochemical facility known as a cracker plant applies steam (or just heat) processes to “crack” ethane into ethylene, which creates the most common type of plastic.

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