A national ban on fracking moved a step closer this week as an Oireachtas Joint Committee unanimously agreed to support a Private Member’s Bill on the matter.
The Bill from Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin was referred to the Joint Committee on Climate Action and Environment for pre-legislative scrutiny after the Dáil passed the first stage of the Bill last October.
Mr McLoughlin proposed legislation has received widespread support from all political parties, and is now expected its to be brought to Committee stage within the next month.
A moratorium on fracking licensing has been in place in the Republic of Ireland since 2013.
Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – is used to extract onshore natural gas from areas rich in shale rock. It involves the pumping of a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand into the rock to create openings so that gas can seep out into deep wells.
However, an Environmental Protection Agency study released last November indicated that fracking has the potential to damage both the environment and human health.
According to the report, potential issues include the groundwater pollution from gas and other pollutants escaping through the cracked rock.
The Concerned Health Professionals Ireland (CHPI), launched in 2016 by a former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, has also said that there is overwhelming evidence of impacts on human health, such as causing problems for children with asthma.
Mr McLoughlin said that his constituents have continually voiced their fears about such potential environmental and health issues since he was first elected in 2011.
The Oil and gas company Tamboran had previously expressed an interest in fracking in a cross-border area between south Fermanagh and north Leitrim.
The Australian company was forced to halt any investigatory work at a former quarry in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh in 2014 following heavy protests at the site.
The company was not granted an extension to its licence for test drilling, and is believed to have permanently abandoned the Belcoo site earlier this year.
Mr McLoughlin said that his Bill would ensure that no part of the country would ever be subject to the “potentially harmful effects” associated with the fracking industry.
“Be it in Co. Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, or Clare, this legislation will ensure that no onshore exploration or extraction can ever occur,” he added.
The Bill also seeks a complete ban on the removal of oil and gas from shale rock, tight sands and coal seams, where fracking would usually be required.
Sligo county councillors also unanimously voted this week to include a fracking ban in the county’s new development plan, rejecting a recommendation from the Council’s chief executive to omit the ban.