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.