Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016: Report Stage

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 8, after “petroleum” to insert “or offshore petroleum”.

I very much welcome the fact this Bill has reached this point and that we are on the brink of a historic decision to prohibit fracking onshore. This is a very positive development and I commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin on his Bill and for getting it this far. Beyond that, and I think he would accept this, the greatest credit goes to the communities and environmental groups in a number of parts of the country that have fought to reach a point where we would take the decision to ban fracking. We are all fairly well versed in the reasons that should be the case. From the point of view of local communities in places such as Leitrim and Fermanagh and other counties which might be affected by fracking, it posed a mortal threat to water quality and to the unique landscape and the environment we enjoy in this country and potentially doing immense damage to farming, tourism, heritage, wildlife and to human health.

For all those reasons, it is critically important it is banned onshore.

There are other reasons, as our series of amendments suggest, that the ban should not just be on onshore fracking, but should extend to offshore fracking. The most important is we are in a race against time on the question of climate change. Ireland is already pitifully failing on its targets for reducing CO2 emissions into the environment. We are tragically making special pleading to the European Union, and it would appear we have been somewhat successful, to enjoy more flexibility in reaching those targets to allow us to have less ambitious targets for reducing CO2 emissions because of agriculture in this country. It is wrong. Do not get me wrong, we have to fight to defend our farmers and their interests but there are other ways to do it than special pleading to get out of the imperative to be fully part of and play a leading role in ensuring we tackle runaway climate change as a matter of urgency. We should be a model country precisely because of our heritage. We should be leading the charge for radical action to reduce CO2 emissions because of the unique environmental qualities of the country.

If we do not reach our targets, and at the moment the signs are we will not, we could potentially be facing billions of euro in fines by the EU. Against that background and given the threat climate change represents, the idea we would seek to discover and extract more hydrocarbons through other methods beyond the exploration we already do through conventional extraction methods is simply unconscionable. The vast majority of hydrocarbons have to stay in the ground if we are to have any chance of dealing with climate change. We should be taking a lead by saying we will not engage in either on-shore or off-shore fracking. It was included in the Bill I introduced in 2015 but the Government, in its wisdom, did not bring that Bill forward to Committee Stage. I am very glad Deputy McLoughlin's Bill has come forward but nonetheless it is lacking in its failure to apply the ban to off-shore fracking. It is, sadly, part of a more general failure of this Government to take seriously the imperative to deal with climate change and to take the sort of radical action necessary to do so.

The other point I will make is on the potential damage. We rightly acknowledge the potential damage to health, the environment, wildlife, the landscape, farming and so on caused by on-shore fracking but all of these dangers apply equally to off-shore fracking. When one looks at the experience of off-shore fracking off the coast of the United States, in the Gulf and off other areas of the US coastline, one sees tens of billions of toxic chemicals and waste water pouring into the oceans and poisoning marine life. It puts in chemicals that damage human life and seriously threaten the marine ecosystem. It is an absolute imperative that we ban off-shore fracking as well.

What we have to ban is not just fracking but any form of fracking-like extraction that could potentially have the same damaging effects or put the same toxic materials into the sea, land and water. The Bill is deficient in how it has defined that because the processes of fracking are very likely to change and this Bill may not capture them. I support the Bill but it needs these amendments to give it the full strength it deserves to have.

I remind Deputies that amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I commend Deputy McLoughlin on bringing the Bill to the House. Sinn Féin had a similar Bill on fracking, as had many others here. It is one of the unique occasions when there is cross-party support to try to get it over the line. It is to be commended.

The Bill is a victory for the people in the Gallery and those watching proceedings all over the country more so than for anyone else. While Deputy Tony McLoughlin deserves great credit for it, the pressure that has been built up over the past number of years by people the length and breadth of the country, many in my constituency and in County Clare and other areas, has shone a very bright light on the dangers involved in the process of hydraulic fracturing. When the Bill began its life, it was about geology and about ensuring that gas would not be extracted from coal seams, shale rock and tight sands. It did not go into the process we call fracturing. At the time we understood it was the best way of dealing with it to ensure, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, no new process could be introduced which would be a slightly different from fracturing, for example squeezing the rock or finding some other way to do it which would have the same effect and the same environmental dangers. It has developed a little bit differently and is now not a Bill to do that but an amendment to the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960. However, it does what we need it to do. While I fully accept what Deputy Boyd Barrett is saying, sometimes the perfect can be the enemy of good. If we strive to get this absolutely perfect, we may find ourselves in a situation where we do not achieve what we need to.

I am deputising on behalf of Deputy Brian Stanley this evening, who had tabled amendment No. 4. We will withdraw that amendment. The purpose of the amendment was to address the offshore aspect of fracking. We have been convinced by a number of individuals and groups that the off-shore aspect of it makes it too complex to get the Bill over the line and to be sure we get it done in the lifetime of this Dáil. That is the reason why we feel it is more appropriate to withdraw the amendment and focus on the onshore aspect of it. It has been explained to us by geologists and others that when conventional gas is extracted in wells offshore, there is a process of pressure used that could be described as a type of fracking and that if we try to expand our ban on hydraulic fracturing to offshore, we could, in effect, be banning conventional gas extraction. To do so would put it into a legal tangle where it could be sent to the Attorney General, which would delay the Bill. We do not want to end up in a situation where there is no Dáil and the Bill does not go through. We do not want to see that happen. We propose instead to withdraw our amendment and support the Bill as it stands. When the Bill goes through, we propose an all-party group to develop an alternative amendment to the 1960 Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, which would look at fracking offshore to come up with a comprehensive amendment to the 1960 Act to ensure hydraulic fracturing offshore can be banned. We want to ensure we do not complicate the issue now and possibly allow the Bill to fall.

When we come here, we have an awful lot of division; we are always fighting with each other about different things. We are always coming up with different problems but this is one thing, I am delighted to say, we have unanimity on. It is one of the good things we have here. Everyone is together on this and we want to ensure the process of hydraulic fracturing is banned for good. If the industry comes up with some alternative way of doing it in the future, we will have to look at it then.

For now at least, if we can get this Bill over the line, we will make a strong statement both in Ireland and to the world that hydraulic fracturing is a dangerous process which is wrong and should be banned.

Last February, I attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in the United Nations in New York on the oceans of the earth and the dangers presented by various processes, including pollution. The danger posed by gas and oil exploration was one of the major issues discussed. I made the case that the Irish Parliament was putting through legislation proposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing, that we were leading the way in this area and that the rest of the world should follow. If we have an opportunity to lead, we should not stop by banning only onshore fracking. We should extend the ban to offshore hydraulic fracturing. If the fracking process changes or develops in some way and the legislation needs to be strengthened, we must ensure that any extraction of gas or oil from tight sands, coal seams or shale rock is banned and prohibited for good.

I suggest to the proposers of the other amendments that they rethink their position. My argument is that the perfect must not become the enemy of the good. Once we get this Bill over the line, we should all work together. While I understand that time is of the essence, we have the energy and commitment of everyone in the Chamber to ban hydraulic fracturing offshore. I commend the Bill again.

For the environmental movement, this is an historic day and an historic Bill because what we are doing is not insignificant. This legislation makes a significant statement, so significant that Deputy Mick Wallace's phone is celebrating. It is significant for local communities, particularly in counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Clare, but also because it makes a wider statement about our future without fossil fuels. It is a statement of confidence and intent that we can live on alternative resources, namely, our own natural resources, which will not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or pollute our water and the air we breathe.

I, too, commend Deputy Tony McLaughlin and the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, on their work in presenting the Bill. I understand this is the first of the Private Bills, of which a large number have been published in the past year, to reach Report Stage. The question asked in the Business Committee and other committees is why these Bills are not proceeding to Committee and Report Stage. The Bill is also significant in that we debating Report Stage tonight.

I commend the community groups that have led the campaign on hydraulic fracturing in a positive and constructive manner. I refer to the Love Leitrim group, whose members I have seen on top of mountains at bonfires and outside the gate of Leinster House dressed as cows and Lord knows what else. They have been positive and confident and have run a brilliant campaign. I commend the Good Energies Alliance Ireland whose members I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of times in Leitrim. It has held seminars and has engaged in in-depth thinking, with other campaigners, on the technological alternatives to hydraulic fracturing and the environmental risks of the process. This is a great day for the members of these organisations.

I commend Friends of the Earth on the support it has provided in drafting the Bill, including international expertise. Kate Ruddock and others in the Gallery have done a great job consistently working with Deputies to ensure the Bill gets over the line. There are too many other community groups to mention, including Fracking Free Ireland and the people I met as I went from one farm to the next on the Loop Head Peninsula who said they did not want fracking in their community. This is a great day for them.

More than anything else, however, this is a great day because we face an existential threat from the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. We must address this existential crisis and the great thing is that we can play a part in doing so. It is the villages in Leitrim that are at the front line. Every village and community has a chance to play its part.

This Chamber has been divided on water for a long time. On this issue of water quality, particularly with regard to the source of the River Shannon and many other of the rivers that flow through Ireland, we have said we will not take a risk. Several committees heard scientific evidence that fracking into this source of shale carried risks as the natural geological fractures in the rock would result in some of the pollutants used to collect gases seeping into our water resources. The Bill is significant for that reason.

I fully agree with the sentiment expressed in Deputy Boyd Barrett's amendment that we must stop fracking in all locations. Our seas cover ten times the area of our land. However, on this occasion, I agree with Sinn Féin that, while agreeing with the amendment in spirit, it would be better to pass the Bill today and achieve certainty that all hydraulic fracturing on land will categorically end. The issue in respect of the seas is more complicated, as we saw when debating Committee Stage of the Minerals Development Bill. For example, some people are considering using gasification to extract energy from a cold seam in the Irish Sea. A range of technical and legislative issues arise in respect of offshore exploration. It is better, therefore, to pass the Bill and have cast iron certainty that onshore fracking will end.

I ask Sinn Féin and People Before Profit to go one step further and recognise that if we are to take climate change seriously, listen to scientists and heed what has to be done, we must leave four fifths of known fossil fuel reserves under ground. This, in turn, means we must put an end to all offshore gas and oil exploration in our waters, including fracking. This will not be easy because many parties and individuals have held up the prospect that the Atlantic will generate a great fortune for the country. I remember hearing figures of €60 billion or €600 billion - I cannot remember which - that could be generated and which would be our rescue. I am sorry but these reserves are no longer touchable if we are to take climate change seriously.

I fully agree with the amendment to stop exploration offshore. Let us go further by stopping the issuing and use of licences for any exploration for offshore gas and oil. We have an obligation to do so. The Green Party will introduce legislation on this issue and will seek support from Sinn Féin and People for Profit because that is the scale of the response we need to make.

The Bill is also historic because it has secured cross-party support. I regret my colleague, Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, is not present. I listened to a row the other night about climate change. We often hear arguments citing wind farms and the grid as problems and accusing the Green Party of causing all sorts of trouble with the new technologies we want introduced. We recognise that we have a problem in that regard. If we stop using fossil fuels, as we must, we will have to provide an alternative. That alternative is renewable energy, including solar and wind power. We need to get this right, however, by remaining united and bringing all communities with us. The same communities in Roscommon who were concerned about fracking are also concerned about onshore wind.

Many of the issues that will arise in the coming years will not be as difficult to deal with as those that have arisen in recent years. For example, wind power generation will start to move offshore. We must also start developing solar power, even in the cloudy north west. We need to get this right, however, and the people who have been campaigning, including the Good Energies Alliance and Love Leitrim, have a job ahead of them. Having achieved a great victory in saying "No" to fracking, we need to work out how we can become good at providing an alternative energy supply. Electric vehicles are the future and communities and counties that are good at being efficient will prosper. More than anything else, the energy resource must be local and belong to everyone. Let us open up that future as we close the door on the history of fossil fuels.

While Independents 4 Change will support the Bill, I also agree with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and support the amendments.

We will not jeopardise it, as we are getting near the end, and fair play to Deputy Tony McLoughlin and those who put enough pressure on Deputies in their areas to force the Government into this position, although it has not done a U-turn on how it feels about the environment. The performance of this and previous Governments on climate change has been pathetic and I do not see any change in mindset.

This is a good moment, but it is a drop in the ocean towards the bigger picture, while we continue to destroy the environment. This could be described as the perfect example of how the Government could not care less about climate change and the environment and the enduring duplicity of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Department has a petroleum affairs division which grants licences for oil and gas exploration and production. Its website states:

Our role in the Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) is to maximise the benefits to the State from exploration for and production (E&P) of indigenous oil and gas resources. In doing this we ensure that activities are conducted with due regard to their impact on the environment and other land/sea users.

A new report from the World Wildlife Fund shows that, since 1970, the number of wild animals on the planet has decreased by more than half and is expected to have decreased by two thirds by 2020. It is generally accepted that it is too late for most of the world's coral reefs. In many parts of the world rainfall patterns are changing and humans and wildlife are competing for diminishing sources of water. Oceans are undergoing acidification which is endangering plankton, the basic food for all aquatic life. Each year sees record temperatures being set, with another Irish record reportedly to be set this month.

Every child in every school that the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, visits knows that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground. That is the message he promotes when he meets them. At the presentation of the Young Environmentalist Awards this week, for example, he urged children to reduce their carbon footprint and told a crowd of students that they were the ones who would drive change. It is an understandable position, given that nothing is coming from the Government or the Department. The Government's inaction on climate change is nothing less than intergenerational theft, in that it is the next generation's responsibility to clean up the mess.

Last week, the Minister tweeted about the possibility of developing a gas storage facility on the Shannon Estuary to tie into gas-powered power stations. He referred to gas as an "alternative fuel". The lie being propagated by the fossil fuel industry that gas is a green or so-called alternative source of energy generation is akin to the long propaganda campaign conducted by scientists in the pay of tobacco companies who spread the lie that tobacco did not harm people's health. In fact, the very same scientists are involved in the climate change denial movement and promoting the lie that gas is greener alternative energy source. One of the main peddlers of this nonsense is ExxonMobil which withheld decades of research detailing in advance the effects of climate change and instead funded and promoted an entirely different story that contradicted its own findings through lobby groups and Bill mills such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, and the Heartland Institute. ExxonMobil is listed in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund's portfolio of investments. Of the 28 oil and gas exploration and drilling licences granted along Ireland's coastline last year, ExxonMobil - going 50:50 with Statoil - was granted six by a Department that absurdly includes the phrase "Climate Action and Environment" in its title.

Our amendment is a litmus test for the Government. When it discusses climate action, is it all hot air? If there is a genuine concern for the environment, wildlife and the health and safety of the people behind its support for the Bill, surely that logic applies to the extraction of oil and gas off our shores. If there was not such a legacy of bad planning and prevalence of one-off housing in the 12 counties where fracking was proposed, one wonders whether the Bill would have got this far at all. The issue affects so many people thanks to the spread of where they live.

According to Ms Naomi Klein, it is not too late to keep temperatures below levels that would save millions of lives and livelihoods. Ireland is the second worst performer in Europe when it comes to climate change action. We are busy destroying our children's futures and the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world and all for a quick buck. Ireland has strict child protection measures. We even have laws protecting the rights of unborn children, yet we have no legislation to stop outright the extraction of fossil fuels to protect the lives of all children now and in the future. UNICEF has warned that more severe and frequent natural disasters, food crises and changing rainfall patterns are threatening children's lives and that, by 2050, climate change could result in an additional 25 million children suffering from malnourishment.

The Bill could be undone by the CETA which will come into effect soon. God only knows what effect that will have on everything. Companies will be able to take cases against measures we introduce if they affect their profit prospects in any way. We were mad to sign up to the CETA, but that was consistent with Government policy. The same philosophy is evident across Departments. In response to our recent questions to the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Communications, Climate Action and Environment they kept using the word "sustainable", but they would not define it for us. What does it mean to them? They invented the terms "carbon neutral" and "sustainable" and claimed that we could make money while still looking after the environment. The second part of that claim is losing out badly. There is no genuine interest in tackling climate change.

Fianna Fáil will support the Bill. I commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin on introducing it and welcome the cross-party support for it which sends a positive message in and of itself. When many of the countries in the G8 are ploughing ahead with fracking policies, it is exemplary that Ireland is taking a stand, shining a light and showing campaigners across the world who are vehemently against hydraulic fracking that at least one country is saying no.

I welcome the withdrawal of Sinn Féin's amendment on the offshore aspect. While I share the concerns of Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Martin Kenny, keeping the Bill simple will get it done and that is what we should do. We can deal with the other issues down the road.

I also welcome the Bill from another point of view. In 2014 Kerry County Council inserted a clause into its 2015 to 2021 county development plan so as not to allow fracking. I am glad that this national legislation will back up that proposal.

As an example to the audience present, I will stick to the subject of this debate. I welcome what we are doing and pass over to my colleague, Deputy Eamon Scanlon.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate and commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin. Unquestionably, this is an important point. I thank the Love Leitrim campaign, some of the members of which are in the audience, and Friends of the Earth on behalf of the many thousands of people whose lives I hope will not be affected by fracking once the Bill is passed.

I do not agree with the amendments tabled. Like Deputy Martin Kenny and my colleague, Deputy John Brassil, I do not believe Sinn Féin's amendment should be moved, as it would complicate something important. We do not want to do that or anything else that would delay the Bill in any way.

When I first heard of fracking, it was in a motion proposed at Leitrim County Council by Councillor Mary Bohan against the wishes of many of the council's officials. It was supported, albeit not by every councillor because people did not fully understand the damage that could be done. Honestly, I did not either until I happened to be watching the Discovery Channel one day when it showed a PBS America programme on fracking in America, particularly in the state of New York. Although it was a balanced programme that was not for or against fracking, it showed the damage caused to the environment, as well as to communities that once had been growing with schools, shops and so on but in which schools had closed and people had moved away.

We are not talking about one well in an area and we could be talking about 50 or 60 wells within 2 square miles. It absolutely destroys the environment from a visual point of view and also from a health point of view. That programme showed someone turning on a tap and then lighting a match, and the water coming out of the tap lit up. That could not be good for anybody, but that is where people were living. We do not want this in Ireland. We have a nice green country. We have quite a good quality of life here and the freedom that means people can go where they want to go. We want to maintain that. No money would compensate the people of this country for damage similar to what has been done in other countries, particularly in America.

I again thank everybody involved in the campaign. We are on the crest of having the Bill passed. I ask those who have tabled amendments to withdraw them so we can move on, pass the Bill and send it to the Seanad.

Public opinion is very much in favour of this legislation. Deputy McLoughlin has done the country a service by bringing it forward and I congratulate him on his efforts. I do think, though, that we have to get into the real world with regard to energy and the future of our economy. We have to strike a balance between the issues around climate change and where we are going to get our energy from. If we all accept and sign up to the first part of that argument, which is that in theory we will not use hydrocarbons and fracking in the future, then we must accept the quid pro quo in terms of the infrastructure, in particular energy infrastructure, that will be necessary and is necessary right now and which is opposed with the same vehemence as fracking in some parts of our country.

The real difficulty is that when the lights go out, when the factories do not have the capacity to run their machines, when people cannot drive their cars or light their homes, then it all comes home. The reality is that there should be an intense effort by the Government, the Opposition and others to find a solution to the opposition to energy infrastructure in our country. Specifically, if we all favour wind energy, and I know the Green Party does, why do we always object to the infrastructure that carries that wind as it comes from more and more parts of our country, particularly the south west and the west? There is absolute hostility, including in areas not far from my constituency. It does not make sense to say "No" to fracking and to hydrocarbons and then say "No" to renewable energy.

How do we strike the bargain? How do we do the deal? What we need to do is to engage intensively with issues such as the height of the pylons, the distance they are located from homes and all the other issues that have been raised by community groups right around the country. If we do not find a resolution to this, we are the people who will have our heads in the sand. Currently, our society is not paying the price. There is a price to pay for moving away from hydrocarbons and that is the price I see. We must negotiate it. We must ensure also that for those living near some of these proposed infrastructures, such as pylons, there should be a significant benefit to the local community - to schools, hospitals and so on - and there should be a specific formula that gives a very significant pay-off to those communities and also to the households that are in sight of these pylons. There should be a significant financial benefit in terms of energy supply to the homes of those who live on or near those grids.

The reason for this is that if the benefit to the city comes from the grid and the energy flowing through it, and if it is facilitated by the communities that are faced by these pylons in their area, then it would be unfair if there is not a very significant local benefit. I believe that is the way forward. We cannot always win these arguments but we have to strike that balance. I hope our debates on these issues will look at that specifically.

On fracking itself, I agree there has been a very poor history at some sites and Deputy Scanlon spoke about devastated communities. However, I have seen fracking in operation not 300 yd. from a school and a community, and there were none of the effects the Deputy mentioned because that site was properly run and met the requirements the local community placed on it. I accept our society is not prepared to and will not pay that price, but it is not all as it is painted.

Another point made by other speakers is that as technology changes, which it will, and as we can extract energy from different sources in different ways, things will change. The New York Times this week pointed out that in another 20 years there will not be any more hydrocarbon fuelled cars as they will be electric vehicles. That is the future and we have to move towards that. At the same time, we have to be practical and realistic. The challenge for all of us is not to pass this Bill: the challenge is to find a way to accept the energy infrastructure that must absolutely and definitively come in its place.

I welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery, many of whom fought for many years and who made politicians aware of the dangers of fracking. It was those people who educated me when I went to meetings in Carrick-on-Shannon and other parts of the region in terms of the possible dangers of fracking. Once I engaged with them and followed it up, I could see the devastation that fracking has caused in many parts of the world.

I was mayor of Roscommon County Council in 2011-12. It was the first county in Ireland to propose that fracking would not come to our county because it would affect north Roscommon, which is now a big tourism area. We are building on tourism and that is what we want to do. We have to be very strong about this. I acknowledge the role of Deputy McLoughlin, who pushed this issue continuously. We all got behind him to support him because we saw the danger that was coming.

We do not need fracking in Ireland. Fracking is not suitable for a small island country, dotted with lakes and rivers, hills and valleys. It would be a disaster for this country. I am glad there is support for the Bill right around this Chamber and that we are all at one on it. It is something I am determined we must keep out of Ireland. We do not have the vast areas of land where this can be developed and it would be a huge mistake to allow fracking. While I have great respect for Deputy O'Dowd, I cannot agree with him with regard to fracking.

I agree we have to address the issues of wind energy and solar energy. I have had to deal with this on my own doorstep and have paid a heavy price at times because I have tried to get a balance. The Government needs to put legislation in place in regard to wind farms because that will solve the issue. It also needs to do this in regard to solar power. No planning is being granted for solar at the moment and An Bord Pleanála will not pass planning requests on the basis that there is no legislation. The Government is falling behind on this issue.

We have a brilliant tourism product that we can develop in our locality - in Roscommon, Leitrim, the midlands and the west. That is where we want the money spent and what we want to develop. I have a good message for Deputy Eamon Ryan. Many of the smaller farmers come to me to say they know about climate change - while they may not want to say it publicly, they know it is a reality.

Masses of young people from rural and urban areas believe climate change is an issue. I come from a rural farming background and I accept that climate change is an issue. However, we need a balance and we need to understand that farmers and those in rural areas need to survive. By working closely together we can ensure that everybody's situation is taken into account.

It is not the small or medium-sized farmers who are causing a problem with climate change. They also need to be protected to a degree. Looking back over the years, the greatest custodians of our environment were the small or medium-sized farmers. They love nature and they protected nature. It is very important that we acknowledge that in anything we do.

I have had discussions with people involved in wind energy and have had discussions with Coillte. Deputy O'Dowd is right in saying we need to include communities more. Government should develop regulations so that when a wind farm is developed, one turbine should be given over for the use of the community within a 5 km or 10 km area so that they have free electricity. We need to engage with those people and include them. If we develop solar and wind energy, we do not need fracking in our back gardens, and we do not want it.

I congratulate Deputy McLoughlin on introducing the Bill which will probably pass this evening or very shortly afterwards. I pay tribute to Love Leitrim and the campaign groups in Leitrim and south Fermanagh that campaigned actively against fracking and kept it on the agenda up to the stage where legislation is going through the House to ban it altogether.

Fracking is not a good industry and should not have been even considered in the first place. I was involved in the early stages when the proposals were announced. The proposers intended to drill 1,500 wells at that time. By their own figures, it was estimated that about 4% of those would leak, which in the case of Ireland would have meant at least 40 to 60 leaks of various magnitudes - some would have been very small, but some could have been catastrophic for the communities. That was not a risk that should have been taken. It should have been considered by us when we were considering licensing the fracking industry. I am glad to see that we will be banning fracking and we can see an end to that industry for the protection of communities around Leitrim and the other areas proposed, but also for our own protection into the future in terms of addressing our climate-change requirements.

I wish to respond to Deputy O'Dowd's comments on wind farms. The problem with wind farming is that it is geared up to make wealthy people wealthier. That is the whole point of it. We pay massive subsidies to wind farms for something that provides 60% of our electricity about 4% of the time. For me that is not a viable renewable energy source and we should not actively pursue it. There is a role for wind and I believe offshore wind energy will have a role. I believe that wave power and tidal power will provide our energy. I do not know enough about whether solar has any real value. I have seen advertisements for solar panels that even work in the dark. I think that is hilarious.

Only in Donegal.

Only in Donegal could it happen. This is a company advertising solar panels for households claiming that it even works in the dark. Maybe it does, but I would love to see it actually happening.

Wind energy is not about renewable energy in this country; wind energy is only about making money for investors. The imposition of wind farms on communities around the country is completely unacceptable. That is why there is such a backlash against wind energy, particularly in Donegal where we have seen the development of 110 kV lines in order to get the wind energy out of the county, but we do not see benefits for communities. I wonder how many community-owned wind energy projects there are in the country. I would say there are very few; they could probably be counted on one hand. That is because it is all geared towards making wealthy people wealthier and ensuring they can make money out of it as long as we continue to subsidise it. If we are going to subsidise renewable energy, we should subsidise it for communities and for the benefit of people and citizens, rather than for the benefit of multinationals and investment groups.

However, this Bill is about fracking and I welcome it. When it passes I hope it will see an end to fracking in the country. However, the country has much more to do in preparing. We need a real strategy for moving away from fossil fuels into the future. That is the only option we have and we need to come to terms with that. We need to start working actively towards that. We can transition away from it, but we need to embrace that move. The Government needs to take it seriously and ensure it implements policies that move us in that direction.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Down through the years many Governments have come and gone, but in fairness, Deputy McLoughlin has taken the bull by the horns by introducing his Bill with the support of the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne. It is a good day when there is unanimous agreement around the House, which is not generally the case. People support the Bill.

Above all it is a good day for rural communities, the quiet people around Ireland who got together, mobilised, got a message out there to every Deputy and councillor, and everybody in the media. Much of the time they used their own resources, putting funding together to try to get this done. Love Leitrim and different community groups went to the trouble of getting videos of the mistakes in other countries. For once today those people can say to themselves that the ordinary person out there has won. A bit of common sense has been brought to elected representatives to go with what the people want. We are listening to the ordinary people on the ground, which is a great thing.

No more than anyone else I had to be educated on this issue. My big concern was over the quality of the drinking water, especially in the counties concerned. We have many problems coming down the line at the moment. Irish Water is hitting major problems on extraction licences with regulations and legislation blocking it. It is trying to resolve issues such as trihalomethanes, THMs, while at the same time being prevented from doing so. If this was landed on top with the danger of damaging groundwater sources, we would have a major problem that could leave entire counties without good quality drinking water.

In talking about producing electricity or whatever we will use down the line, we need to be clear that small farmers in the first place are guardians of the landscape. It is grand from 100 miles away to tell everyone how to live their lives and what to do with them. At the end of the day, small farmers wake up with nature, live with nature and go to sleep with nature. That is what they are about; that is where they are from. We are not talking about these big landlord set-ups. In most cases these resources are planned to be extracted from areas in the west of Ireland. We are talking about people who have been the guardians of their landscape all their lives. I take offence at any of those people being criticised in any way.

As was pointed out earlier, we have lake lands in Leitrim and Roscommon and a large tourist area in the west of Ireland that would be under threat were it not for Bills such as this being introduced. On energy, there are plenty of places 1 km from a house where turbines could be erected. However, it is not the turbine, but the economic value of what it might do. I have no problem if something is efficient and economical. We could use Google this minute to find plenty of parts of Ireland that are 1 km from a house and one could put up some type of a system that is 1 km from a house.

That is grand. People like to talk and say they need this, that and the other, but they might not like a pylon 50 m from their house or a wind turbine 400 m or 500 m from their house. There is no doubt that it would devalue a house. However, there are solutions and there is middle ground to be found. Unfortunately, as Deputy Pringle said, people in rural areas are seen as fat cats getting richer from putting up wind turbines while the ordinary person has to put up with it and it remains an eyesore for the rest of his or her life. There are options. One could put the infrastructure offshore, providing it is economical. We have to live in the real world where we have only a certain amount of money. The question is whether we are going to put up electricity prices by 20% or 30%. Let us have that debate if that is what people want to do but I do not want to see it happen. People are struggling right around the country. Middle ground can be found. Deputy O'Dowd spoke earlier. There is no reason we cannot underground electricity cables. We are able to do that with pipes. It costs more and there is no point saying it does not but we must make decisions about where we are going.

It is similar to tolls being put on new roads that we build. We think we will pay for them in 20 years. There are roads in my area for 100 years, so why do we not look to the long term and seek to pay for infrastructure over 50 or 100 years, which would make undergrounding, for example, economical and would bring communities on board. That would allow electricity to be provided without having to turn the lights off anywhere for industry or anyone else. We all need electricity. Businesses need it. We need to be competitive because we are competing with the likes of France, for example, which has nuclear power, and other countries that are able to produce electricity cheaper. We have to think of our manufacturing industry and what we export. We are an export-led country and we have to be able to compete. There is no point in looking out the door and saying we have a lovely country and have us all with our hands in our pockets and living in a tent. That will not work.

We need to make sure we strike a balance, and that can be done, but nothing will be achieved by a certain cohort blaming the people who have been the guardians of the landscape for hundreds of years and who have the environment in such good condition in rural areas. I commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin on introducing his Bill. It is a good day for the people. Let us have a debate about where we are going in terms of producing what we are going to produce. We may have to spend extra money. I am in favour of that if we can bring rural communities on board. Let us spend the extra money on it. Let the fat cats spend a bit of the money they are making and then we might get electricity to the places we need.

Out of courtesy to those in the Gallery, I would like to get this debate wrapped up by 10.15 p.m., if nobody wants to push the Bill to a vote. I commend Deputy Tony McLoughlin. His original Bill was the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill. The debate that took place on Committee Stage did not include any debate on offshore exploration and extraction, therefore it is inappropriate to introduce statutory prohibitions that are not underpinned by scientific rationale and place Ireland at an unfair competitive disadvantage by creating the uncertainty of limiting the operator's capability to assess reservoirs in the Irish offshore.

I understand the points about offshore oil exploration, however, we must accept also that fossil fuels will play a part of our energy mix in the coming years as we transition to a low-carbon economy. I ask Members to withdraw their amendments. I do not propose to accept them. I note that Deputy Boyd Barrett has tabled separate Private Members' legislation on the potential to introduce a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing in the offshore. In my view that would be a more appropriate vehicle for the discussion on this matter.

It is a good day that we have at least agreed that we have to ban onshore fracking. As all speakers said, Deputy Tony McLoughlin deserves commendation for that. Various community groups, such as Love Leitrim, and other environmental and community groups which campaigned against fracking deserve great credit for forcing all of us to address this issue and recognise the concerns and dangers of it, to educate ourselves about fracking and reach this point where we can make an historic decision not to allow it on the onshore. However, I am concerned about the offshore aspect of the debate. I am sure people are aware of the impact of offshore fracking, regardless of the Bill I introduced or Deputy McLoughlin's Bill.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 12 noon on Thursday, 25 May 2017.