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Issue No. 25 - February 1, 2014

1. Leitrim County Council votes not to permit fracking

Fracking Protest Leitrim

In September 2013, Leitrim County Council passed a motion calling on the national government to put in place “an immediate and outright ban on the exploration and extraction of Shale Gas by the fraction of Shale rock by hydraulics, cryogenics or similar purpose technology generally known as Fracking”. Five other counties (Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Roscommon and Sligo) have passed similar motions calling for a national ban on fracking.

Following the example of County Donegal, Leitrim County Council has now voted (Jan. 13, 2014) to amend the County Development Plan to prohibit fracking in the county. The amended plan now includes a policy (1) not to permit unconventional gas/oil exploration or extraction in the county, (2) to carefully scrutinise proposals for unconventional gas/oil exploration and extraction in neighbouring jurisdictions and seek a full life cycle Health Impact Assessment for any proposed project, and (3) in the case that policy (1) is overruled, to require a comprehensive full life cycle Health Impact Assessment as a mandatory component of the evaluation of such projects.

The amendment was supported by 17 councillors, despite the 
warning from the Acting County Manager that councillors voting for the motion would be held liable for any financial losses to the council arising from a potential legal challenge.

Although it is the central government that will ultimately decide whether or not unconventional gas/oil exploration and extraction will be allowed in Leitrim, the amendment to the County Development Plan is seen as a strong expression of the will of the local people. As Mairead Higgins, a member of Love Leitrim cited by The, remarked: 
“Their action today means there is no democratic mandate for fracking – and gives the government a perfect opportunity take the people’s will into account and ban fracking not just in Leitrim but in Ireland as well.”

Leah Doherty, of No Fracking Ireland, welcomed the decision by Leitrim County Council when she was interviewed on RTE's Morning Ireland (January 14) : We’ve been campaigning on this issue for the past two and a half years, and we’re delighted that Leitrim County Council, across the political divide last night, voted in favour of banning fracking. It’s been well acknowledged internationally by groups and local communities that fracking is scraping the barrel when it comes to fossil fuels...The problems with regards to fracking are multi-faceted. The problems are water pollution, air pollution, and the health effects have been well documented in the United States and Australia and Canada where it takes place".

2. EU shale gas regulation "fracked to pieces"

Anti fracking protest in Dublin
Anti-fracking activists stand outside the
European Commission Representation,
calling for an end to fracking
(Anti-fracking protest in Dublin)
In 2011, the European Parliament published Impacts of shale gas and shale oil on the environment and human health, a report which identified areas in which existing EU legislation was considered to be insufficient for the regulation of onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction and exploration. In particular, the report noted that "the threshold for Environmental Impact Assessments to be carried out on hydraulic fracturing activities in hydrocarbon extraction is set far above any potential industrial activities of this kind and thus should be lowered substantially."

In October 2013, the European Parliament voted to amend the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive so as to require mandatory EIAs for all non-conventional hydrocarbon extraction and all exploration involving hydraulic fracturing (SGBI No. 19).

However, this vote, part of a larger process of reviewing the entire EIA Directive, was not the final word on the matter. The amendments supported by the European Parliament were subsequently part of Trialogue (European Parliament, European Commission, and European Council) negotiations, where they faced strong opposition from countries interested in pursuing shale gas extraction (the UK, Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). In the end, the shale gas amendments to the EIA Directive were rejected.

At the same time as amendments to the EIA Directive were being discussed, the European Commission was also preparing a "shale gas framework". Part of this process was an extensive public consultation, in which the overwhelming majority of respondents expressed a wish for stronger EU legislation of unconventional fossil fuels. Of the various options open to the European Commission, including new legislation, it has adopted one of the weakest: 
a set of non-binding "recommendations". It has emerged that the EC was the target of intense lobbying to oppose any new legislation, notably from UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who wrote to EC president José Manuel Barroso to express his opposition to legislation: "It is essential the EU minimise the regulatory burdens and costs on industry and domestic bill payers by not creating uncertainty or introducing new legislation." 

A large number of citizen groups and environmental organisations throughout Europe (over 400 as of Jan. 24, including 23 from the Republic of Ireland and 3 from Northern Ireland) signed an open letter to European Commissioners, heads of state, and MEPs, expressing dismay at the minimal approach to unconventional fossil fuel regulation being adopted by Europe, as well as the negotiations underway for a free-trade agreement with the USA, which the groups fear will erode environmental protection in Europe. 

No Fracking Dublin held a protest (see above) at the EC offices in Dublin on January 23, 2014, to mark the announcement of the shale gas framework.

For more details on the EIA Directive and shale gas framework negotiations, see here.

3. Frac sand mining pollution

Frac Sand Mines
In addition to enormous quantities of water and chemicals, it also takes a lot of silica ("frac sand") to frack one well one time: between 2.5 and 5 million pounds.

As this Earth Island article reports, intensive silica mining to supply hydraulic fracturing operations is causing air pollution problems in a number of American states, including WisconsinMichigan, Minnesota, and Iowa.

Silica grains are similar to asbestos in that they are very small and easily inhaled. The grains enter human lungs and are not expelled by the body. Exposure to silica can cause silicosis, an incurable condition that may produce symptoms decades after exposure to silica.

Exposure to airborne silica has been found to be an occupational health hazard for workers involved in hydraulic fracturing (SGBI No. 15). Residents of areas in which frac sand is mined are also exposed to airborne silica, as well as other pollution problems, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and water pollution, and the disturbance of increased truck traffic -- as many as 900 truck journeys have been recorded in a mining locality a single 8-hour period (see Earth Island article above). While the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines to protect workers from silica exposure, there are no federal regulations to protect residents of mining areas from frac sand pollution.

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