Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
389. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the fact that no regulations are in place regarding any onshore gas extraction proposals under the current legislation, for example the proposed hydraulic fracturing for gas; and if he will now set-up a working group to explore the impact of such a proposal on agriculture in the north west. [27046/11]
393. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the fact that no regulations are in place regarding any onshore gas extraction proposals under current legislation, for example, the proposed hydraulic fracturing for gas; and if he will now set-up a framework to deal with licences granted in the future which proceed to extraction stage. [27047/11]
I can inform the Deputy that there is a comprehensive regulatory framework in place that would apply in the case of any major onshore gas extraction project. The development of such a project would require a number of statutory consents including a planning consent from An Bord Pleanála under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure Act) 2006, an Integrated Pollution Prevention Control Licence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with a Petroleum Lease, a Plan of Development consent and a Gas Pipeline consent from myself as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. A core element of these consent processes would be to consider the potential environmental impact of any proposed development.
In relation to the specific issue of the potential use of the technology known as hydraulic fracturing as part of a gas exploration or extraction project I can confirm that my Department has not received applications for nor licensed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Irish onshore at this time.
Earlier this year, onshore licensing options were awarded to three companies over parts of the North West Carboniferous (Lough Allen) and the Clare Basins. The licensing options are preliminary authorisations and are designed to allow the companies assess the natural gas potential of the acreage largely based on desktop studies of existing data. By the end of the option period in February 2013, the companies will have to decide whether to apply for a follow-on exploration licence or relinquish the acreage.
I have made it clear that in the event that any of the companies involved decide to apply for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing, the application would have to be set out in detail and be supported by an environmental impact statement. The application would then be the subject of an environmental impact assessment which would include a public consultation phase. My Department would also consult with other relevant statutory authorities such as the EPA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service before reaching any decision.
In the event of a commercial discovery, any potential development for the onshore production of natural gas would require the authorisations that I have outlined above, including authorisations from An Bord Pleanála, the EPA and from me as Minister with responsibility for natural resources.
It is too early to conclude whether or not these licensing options will proceed to the exploration licence stage and much too early to anticipate a commercial discovery that would potentially lead to a natural gas production project. I am aware, however, that concerns have been expressed by some about the potential impact of the use of hydraulic fracturing and I take such concerns seriously. In that regard I can confirm that my Department is engaging with a range of other State bodies with a view to ensuring that there is a joined up approach to regulation in this area.
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