Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a prohibition on the issue of consent, licences or permits for the exploration, prospecting or leases or other permissions to facilitate Hydraulic Fracturing projects or the exploitation of shale gas from within the State, together with the development of any infrastructure or facilities required for Hydraulic Fracturing within the State, and includes a prohibition on the pursuit by any Minister, or State Agency or Body on behalf of the State engaging in Hydraulic Fracturing within the State, or to hold or otherwise act on as if they held any consent, licence or permit for the exploration, prospecting or leases or other permissions to facilitate Hydraulic Fracturing projects or the exploitation of shale gas from within the State, including development of any infrastructure or facilities required for Hydraulic Fracturing within the State. The prohibitions referred to include a prohibition extending to the territorial waters of the State.

World leaders have expressed their determination to tackle the issue of runaway climate change and, to some extent, these sentiments were echoed by the Government. Following the Paris climate summit, there was a determination to reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use to try to prevent a climate disaster. This week, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, introduced his White Paper on the future of low-carbon energy. The Government is determined to move to an 80% to 95% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. There is an even more ambitious target to reduce it by 100% by the end of the century. The question is whether these are just noble aspirations and grand objectives, or will they be matched with real and bold action on the ground. Many people looking at the threat, imminence and reality of climate change doubt whether the aspirations of the Paris summit can actually be met. If they are to be met, however, there is certainly no doubt that this must be done with bold and radical action. In that context, it is worrying to see some of the commentary on the Minister's White Paper. It was described in The Irish Times today by the noted environmental journalist, Frank McDonald, as a "lame" paper, lacking in detail, high in aspiration but low on concrete action.

The Bill wants the Government, or any future Government after the next general election, to take bold action to contribute to preventing further climate change and reduce fossil fuel use, by banning fracking. Forget about reports, investigations, sitting on the fence and fudging things - it should just be banned. We do not need an EPA report, like the current one, to tell us that if we bring up shale gas through hydraulic fracturing we will add to fossil fuel use and we will increase carbon emissions. As there is no doubt about this, there is nothing to investigate.

In order to prevent runaway climate change, two thirds of the world's known oil and gas reserves have to stay in the ground. Meanwhile, however, hydraulic fracturing is seeking new gas and oil reserves. There is simply no place for shale gas, that may be discovered by fracking, in the attempt to reach a carbon-free future. If the words are to be matched with deeds, I urge the Minister and any political party standing before the people in the coming election to commit now to banning fracking. They should pass this Bill and rule out this option for generating energy in the future.

I had a rather disturbing experience at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht last week when the EPA came in to report on its investigation on fracking.

When I asked whether the report would inform us whether fracking was a danger to human health, they said, "No." This begs the question as to what the hell the report was for. CDM Smith and Amec, two companies which are up to their necks in their involvement with global oil and gas companies, were the lead agencies in carrying out the investigation into fracking. They are part of the pro-fracking Marcellus Shale Coalition. Is the EPA investigation not hopelessly compromised by a conflict of interest when it is being carried out by firms that are involved in the oil and gas industry and that have a vested interest in developing fracking? I ask the Government to commit to banning fracking, supporting the Bill and ending the charade that is the EPA investigation. We do not need it and it is hopelessly compromised. We need a ban on fracking if we are serious about dealing with climate change and protecting human health.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.