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

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to speak on Deputy McLoughlin's Bill on the prohibition of petroleum and extraction on the Irish onshore. I congratulate Deputy McLoughlin on having his Bill progressed this far. It is a considerable achievement for a Private Member's Bill to be debated in both Dáil and Seanad Éireann and I look forward to the progress of this, the first Private Member's Bill in this Government's tenure to proceed to enactment. The Bill has a clear focus, namely, to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing to explore for or extract oil or gas in the Irish onshore.

I would like to briefly reflect on the background of fracking in Ireland. As Senators may know, in 2011 three companies applied for licensing options to explore in onshore Ireland the possibility of extracting gas from tight shales by means of hydraulic fracturing. It was considered at the time that there was insufficient scientific evidence on which to base an environmental assessment as to whether this activity could be carried out in a manner that would protect the environment and human health. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, was therefore asked to carry out independent research to establish the potential implications in this regard and to make a recommendation as to the feasibility of fracking in Ireland. I am on the record as having raised concerns with regard to such matters as long-term well integrity, the potential release of toxic chemicals from the ground as a result of fracking and the significant and considerable potential implications by virtue of diverse housing that the use of this technology may have for people in rural communities. As I have already stated in Dáil Éireann, it has always been my view that consideration surrounding the use of new technologies should be scientifically examined and peer reviewed. The EPA-led joint research programme on the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction, which concluded in November 2016, has done precisely this.

Deputy McLoughlin's Bill proposes to prohibit exploration and extraction of petroleum in the Irish onshore due primarily to the concerns he has raised and those recognised and substantiated in the EPA-led research programme concerning the potential for this activity to cause pollution to groundwater and the associated potential impacts on human health, agriculture and tourism. Several amendments proposed on Report Stage of the Bill in the Dáil sought to extend the prohibition on hydraulic fracturing to the offshore. I want to make clear that none of the issues of concern relating to hydraulic fracturing in the onshore apply to the offshore where hydraulic fracturing is used only as a technological mechanism in certain circumstances that do not occur routinely in conventional drilling.

There is no unconventional exploration of offshore Ireland such as that found onshore in the United States of America. Due to the high density of wells required and the cost of development of such reservoirs, this is not feasible in an Irish offshore environment. If a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing on the Irish offshore were to be included in this Bill, it would limit the operator's ability to assess and quantify any petroleum volumes encountered and would likely place Ireland at a serious competitive disadvantage with the international petroleum industry.

On Report Stage in the Dáil two separate issues were conflated, first, the concerns about the impact on communities and groundwater resources and second, whether the continuation of exploration offshore was consistent with our climate change obligation. With regard to the first concern, the EPA-led programme of research was clear in its findings with regard to the legitimate concerns of potential pollution of groundwater and air quality, not to mention the lack of an integrated bespoke statutory framework governing fracking. The prohibition being introduced by this Bill adequately addresses these issues.

With regard to the second issue raised, I wish to clearly establish that the energy White Paper aligns energy policy, climate action policy and exploration policy leading the transition to a low carbon economy by 2050. It is important to note, however, that there will remain a significant role for natural gas, for example, as a transition fuel. If Ireland manages to benefit from the level of offshore exploration in the Atlantic margin in terms of another hydrocarbon find, that could have a substantial positive impact on the Irish economy such as reduced spending on imports, increased Exchequer resources for services and investment and more opportunities for employment and business.

The prohibition of hydraulic fracturing offshore has not been considered in the context of the EPA-led joint research programme nor is there any scientific research of this type of which I am aware relating to the offshore, or indeed any grounds for concern in this regard internationally. The findings of the EPA-led research programme, together with Deputy McLoughlin's Bill have been scrutinised by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which has supported the introduction of a statutory ban on onshore fracking in Ireland. There is separate Private Members' legislation tabled with regard to the potential to introduce a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing offshore. This would be a more appropriate vehicle for discussion of this matter when the appropriate research has been done and proper consideration of this matter has been undertaken. I commend Deputy McLoughlin's endeavours and wish him well with the progress of this Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his new work, which is a continuation of what he has been doing for some time.

I take it we will be supplied with copies of the Minister of State's script.

They are being sent over. I do not have a private secretary because it is all new.

The Minister of State has no private secretary – does he have a car?

I just about have a car.

There is always a bit of disruption when Ministers change although this Minister of State has not really been changed, he is continuing his work.


We are delighted in the west of Ireland that there is a Minister of State in the Galway area beside us in Roscommon.

Indeed, his colleague as Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, has also been appointed, as has Deputy McHugh. There is also Deputy Naughten in Roscommon who is in the Cabinet. Deputy McLoughlin and his staff have worked very diligently on this particular issue over a period and should be commended.

It is very difficult to get a Private Members' Bill through without the approval of the Government. I have been trying for some time to progress a Bill on the registration of wills. It is very frustrating, to say the least. Governments come and go, and while one might be making progress with one Government, another Government then comes in and refuses to progress the Bill. The former Minister, Deputy Burton, declined to progress my Bill even though the late Brian Lenihan, in a previous Government, had agreed to the Bill. It is very frustrating, but in this particular case, Deputy McLoughlin, a Government Deputy, was requested to push this Private Members' Bill. All the other Deputies in Sligo-Leitrim were in favour of this particular legislation, as was a tremendous organisation called the Love Leitrim campaign. Mr. Scott Coombs from Manorhamilton, who is present, is a member of the legislative committee of that organisation. People such as Ms Mary Bohan, who is the outgoing cathaoirleach of Leitrim County Council, and all the members of Leitrim County Council have approved and supported the opposition to fracking in County Leitrim in that particular region, as did members of Roscommon County Council. I commend them on their opposition to fracking. People are anxious that this Bill be brought in as full legislation before the summer recess but I am quite confident, as I believe is the Minister, that this will be signed into law in the not-too-distant future.

Fianna Fáil supports this Private Members' Bill, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016, being brought before the House today. It legislates for the prohibition of fracking activities. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping fluids into shale deposits at high pressure to shatter rock and release natural gas held within. Fianna Fáil opposes the use of the fracking technique in Ireland, as outlined in our energy policy paper published in April 2015. There are potential significant risks to our natural environment due to the pumping techniques and the fate of the fluids used in the drilling and fracturing processes. The possible risks to our drinking water from fracking are simply not acceptable, nor is the possibility of serious damage to our reputation as a high quality food producing nation worth risking. The quality of the water in the River Shannon and elsewhere could be at risk in this regard, and it would affect both our tourism and agricultural industries.

No commercial licences for fracking have been issued in the Republic of Ireland, and the Government is awaiting the outcome of the Environmental Protection Agency study, expected in late 2016, before deciding on definite policy. This Bill will ensure that this does not happen. Fianna Fáil has concerns about the independence of a two-year study into fracking because of the involvement of a consultancy firm, CDM Smith. This company has advised on exploration and gas extraction projects in the United States and Europe and will work in conjunction with bodies including UCD, Queen's University and the British Geological Survey to compile a series of reports next year on fracking. France, Germany and Scotland have all banned fracking in response to these risks. We are not willing to subject our communities to any potential risk that could undermine the integrity of their water supply or the natural environment in which they live. As a result of these risks, Fianna Fáil is demanding a ban on all fracking activities in Ireland and supports the passage of this Bill, which ensures that this does not happen.

The Australian energy company, Tamboran Resources, had intended to commence Ireland's first exploratory fracking project in Fermanagh, but it is now suing two Departments in the Stormont Executive after its plans were rejected late last year. It is very important that the Government here, hopefully in conjunction with the Executive in the North which hopefully will be established in the next few weeks, will work together to ensure that there is joint legislation on both sides of the Border to prohibit fracking in the island of Ireland because if there is fracking in Fermanagh, it will affect resources here in the Republic.

Fracking has occurred in the United Kingdom and I understand it has created small tremors in different locations. Fracking in the United States of America is a completely different situation because of the vast size of that country compared with the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. The technique that is used is very damaging, as are the chemicals used to extract the gas. It is not a particularly economic way of extracting gas. It is very damaging onshore. This does not prohibit drilling for gas offshore, which has been very successful.

The people of Leitrim mounted a very strenuous campaign, and I again commend the Love Leitrim campaign, which was a group representing people throughout the length and breadth of County Leitrim. It spearheaded this campaign to bring about this legislation, which has been approved and will be passed by this House today. I am really hopeful. Deputy McLoughlin and his staff are anxious that this Bill be passed by the summer recess. I am quite confident that this will happen because so much work has been done in the committee system. The Dáil's Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment has approved the legislation - I am a member of the joint committee - and it has gone through all Stages in Dáil Éireann. It will go through all Stages here and Fianna Fáil, as a party in the Seanad, is very enthusiastic. The credit goes to Deputy McLoughlin and I am delighted that a backbench Deputy and his staff have had the initiative to bring this Bill forward as a Private Members' Bill.

Senator Norris would agree with me that bringing a Private Members' Bill is a strenuous undertaking but he has had success in getting them passed through this House over the years.

The Senator has not been backwards himself.

I have tried my best but it is frustrating. That is why I am delighted for Deputy McLoughlin. He felt that it was not moving fast enough but nevertheless, to bring it through the Dáil and through the Seanad as a backbencher without the backing of the Government it is an achievement. If the Government did not want this Bill, the Department would frustrate this as far as it could and it would never see the light of day. It is a particularly important occasion and is a very important issue. We have to protect the integrity of the green island economy with regard to our massive exports of food. It is also linked to our standing on nuclear power. We cannot allow a nuclear power station in Ireland because the dangers are so immense to our industry and tourism.

I commend this Bill to the House to be passed as soon as possible.

Before we proceed, I acknowledge the presence of Deputy McLoughlin, the initiator of the Bill, here in the House. He is welcome.

I did not realise that the Deputy was here. I am sure he has just arrived.

It is a great pleasure to be here and I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his reappointment to this very important role. This issue has been something that Deputy Kyne has been very much involved in. We are very aware of his knowledge here today.

This is important legislation and I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of Deputy McLoughlin, who spearheaded this Bill and has really driven it on in the brief lifetime of this Government. It is an amazing legacy that 13 or 14 months into a new Government, this Private Members' Bill has gone so far and has arrived at this Stage in the Seanad. That is a tribute to the staff who work for Deputy McLoughlin and the ability of his office to ensure that this Bill is safely passed through both Houses.

Every county in Ireland has an interest in ensuring that this legislation is passed because it stamps out an issue that has been creeping in to some parts of this country and about which people were very concerned. Counties Leitrim and Roscommon were mentioned by previous speakers but other counties have been mentioned regarding the actual proposal. Exploration of oil and gas through this method is unfortunately not what we are looking for in Ireland. We have built ourselves on a green economy and on providing for our nation through more appropriate, sustainable means, be that through the solar, wind or wave industries.

I would like to mention the research centre in Haulbowline in Cork, its great work on wave energy and the potential that is there for Ireland.

We do not really need this proposal and we do not need fracking the way it has been proposed. Fracking does not suit this country or this nation. In many ways, Deputy Tony McLoughlin captured that and put it in this Bill which he has now delivered through both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a credit to Deputy McLoughlin, the staff and the Government, which listened to the debate on an important Private Members' Bill. That is what we wanted to see in our Parliament. We wanted to see the Members, whether an assistant Chief Whip or otherwise, bring legislation forward and through both Houses. That is what today is about. I hope the Bill will pass safely through this House today so that it can move forward to the next Stage. I propose that today. I fully back the proposal. This is appropriate legislation. Going forward, more legislation like this is important.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I, too, acknowledge the work of Deputy Tony McLoughlin and his team on the Bill. I also acknowledge the huge work being done by communities throughout this country in putting this issue on the agenda. Sinn Féin is opposed to fracking on the entire island of Ireland. We also stand with communities that have real concerns about the impact upon their environment as a result of exploratory drilling and full shale gas extraction. Therefore, I welcome this Bill and its provisions which will see a total ban on onshore fracking in this State.

I have personal experience in my own area of how people are ignored, mistreated and disregarded when it comes to safety fears around onshore and offshore gas exploration. Although fracking was not involved in the case of Shell at the Ballinaboy site, the treatment of local people who expressed concerns was appalling. Let no one be under any illusion. There are no benefits to allowing fracking in this country. We see that in terms of the Corrib gas project. I live beside it. We have unemployment of more than 30% in the area while billions of euro worth of our natural resources are taken out of it by private companies. We have not seen one red cent from it. We still have huge levels of emigration. People cannot get a job and the first people to be laid off the project were local people. Let no one be under any illusion. This is why I urge communities and counties to stick together and to stand together on this issue.

I welcome the Bill's passage through the Dáil and the all-party support that ensured this was the case. Sinn Féin also wants to impose a ban on offshore fracking and, therefore, to have our entire State fracking-free. Further work is needed to form more legally sound legislation, which unfortunately is outside the realm of this Bill. We hope to achieve it in a future Bill that we are currently working on. In the Dáil we withdrew our amendment regarding a ban on offshore fracking as we believe that it will require separate and more extensive legal change to ban offshore fracking. We want to create a legally firm ban on offshore fracking which will withstand the attempts of major vested interests to challenge it in the courts. Any simple one word amendment at this point will have the appearance of action and the reality of a legal challenge. We recognise that offshore exploration is a very different geological and engineering operation to that of onshore fracking. As we know, exploration is currently taking place off our shores. We tried to cater for this within the confines of this Bill but providing for these complex geological and engineering processes in legislation needs more extensive drafting. Technology around fracking is changing constantly. We need to ensure that legislation is drafted to encompass these changes.

Despite our concerns around offshore fracking, Sinn Féin sees the bigger picture with regard to today's Bill. We do not want to slow the progress of this Bill. We do not want to provide any fuel to any possible vested interests who oppose this Bill. Put simply, we do not want to see any possible delay to this Bill. As we know, it is vital that onshore fracking is outlawed completely and as soon as possible. The offshore fracking process is used occasionally on a very small scale to facilitate more conventional oil and gas drilling. This is happening at present. We are concerned here with a growing offshore fracking industry used to extract gas, as seen in the US. One large-scale operation exists at present but there is further drilling in place.

Water flowing back from fracked wells is cleaned up on large platforms near the well by filtering out oil and other contaminants. The treated wastewater is then dumped overboard into the vast expanse of the ocean. Dilution then supposedly renders it harmless, at least according to the companies. A treatment process is regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency but in California critics led by the Environmental Defense Center have asked federal regulators to ban the practice off the west coast of America until more is known about its effects. We need to know the environmental implications of this type of offshore exploration on our environment. There is no legislation in place to prevent offshore fracking. Exploration can happen now and exploration companies will have free rein in operating in our oceans.

With the present Bill, we hope that this will progress as quickly as possible. We need this law in place. We simply need to outlaw what would be harmful to both the environment and people directly living in the areas affected. Sinn Féin supports this Bill and is clear and resolute about keeping Ireland, North and South, fracking-free. We hope this Bill will be enacted as soon as possible.

I am delighted to stand here today to support Deputy Tony McLoughlin's prohibition of onshore hydraulic fracking Bill. I also congratulate the Minister of State on his reappointment and his new ministerial role and assure him that the Green Party is looking forward to working with him to ensure the future health and sustainability of our country and, indeed, our planet. I believe we are taking a small step in that direction today by beginning the process of passing this anti-fracking Bill in the Seanad.

That the Bill has made it this far is a testament to the hard work of community groups, farmers, local activists and organisations working to prevent climate change. In particular, credit must go to Deputy Tony McLoughlin and the activists of Love Leitrim, who are here in the Gallery today. They have worked extremely hard to see this through. They prepared the Bill, laid the ground work through their campaigns, engaged with farming, rural and urban communities across their county and beyond, and delivered a weight of public opinion, including the signing of a petition for this Bill by 11,000 citizens, in favour of getting rid of this dangerous, wasteful and polluting form of extraction before it gets a foothold here in Ireland. Friends of the Earth also deserves a shout out for providing the detail and research on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing and demonstrating that it has actually been at imminent threat of deployment. Its consideration of the climate impacts of the technology, which I will address shortly, are also on the agenda thanks to its work and that of others.

The Bill has enjoyed universal support as it passed through the Dáil, with not one vote against it at any Stage and that is very much to be welcomed. I expect and hope that it will receive the same reception here in the Seanad. We need to move quickly and decisively on this issue if we are to avoid getting locked into a wasteful and increasingly outmoded system that would be in contradiction to our international, European and ethical obligations. I can attest to the opposition to fracking in my party, the Green Party, and the Civil Engagement Group in the Seanad and, in particular, to that of Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, who could not be here today but was eager for me to express her support for the Bill.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known, is in some way a siren song energy technology. We have seen it deliver low energy prices and fuels with an allegedly low climate impact in the US and elsewhere in a manner that also seems to boost energy independence. For the advocates of gas as a transition fuel, fracking seems a god send and a way to make home-grown gas in sparsely populated areas and further damage more polluting fuels like coal and oil.

This approach has delivered some energy stability for the US during the recession, but at serious cost to local communities, rural and farming interests, and the long-term health of our planet. The process, when not done correctly, can lead to serious damage to our environment, including groundwater pollution, methane gas releases and even minor seismic events. When the process is done perfectly correctly, we see just how far from a solution to the energy crisis it actually is. At a time when climate change has led to record high temperatures across Europe already, here is an energy extraction technique that uses truly staggering amounts of water and energy in its extraction. We still do not have enough information on the methane release levels from fracking which, were they to exceed just a few percentage points, would make fracking as bad for our climate as coal. These are the aspects of fracking that the energy companies focus less on in their brochures as they visit the energy ministries across Europe. This is very far from a free lunch, and I am glad we are nipping it in the bud now before it wastes serious amounts of time in the Irish energy debate.

I will now address that debate and widen out today's discussion to consider what exactly is Ireland's energy strategy. We need to get serious about where we are heading as a country. We are a signatory to the Paris Agreement and are part of the EU 2020 and 2030 energy and climate packages, which oblige us to boost our energy efficiency and renewable energy levels radically while slashing our emissions. While we were all united in our revulsion at President Trump's announcement this month of his intention to pull the United States of America out of the Paris Agreement, are we really serious about Ireland's commitments under it? The time for transition fuels like gas is over. I am not saying they did not play a role in reducing European and American emissions in the short term, but there have been a number of developments over the past decade that have rendered as semi-farcical the concept of installing expensive capacity and of engaging in costly and destructive exploration.

We now know that the current level of known reserves is massively more than we as a species can even contemplate touching. We can burn only between one fifth to one third of the remaining fuel that we know about before we would tip the Earth into an increase in temperature of a potentially catastrophic 2° Celsius or more. That means one thing: we must keep it in the ground. There must be no new exploration, no new mining, no new piping, no fracking and no shale oil - end of. The complex mathematics of the climate does not care about our political arguments against this, nor does it care about our convenience or our resistance to change. We simply cannot argue with the planet any more than we already have. These limits are natural, and it is time to stop speaking out of both sides of our mouths on this by signing a climate pact with one hand while the other hand cuts peat for power generation or signs another licence for oil exploration. We are at the stage now of risking accumulating massive stranded assets as the world moves on to a post-fossil fuel future. This means a real national mitigation strategy with teeth, and a plan for the massive deployment of renewables to replace our existing electricity and transport energy infrastructure. This means not approving the liquid natural gas terminal on the Shannon to import US gas extracted through fracking, lest we risk making hypocrites of ourselves and incentivising the global trade in fracked gas.

This brings me to the next, brighter part of the new reality, which is the final proper arrival of the renewable revolution. Renewable energy has sometimes felt like fusion power, always just 30 years away from being deployable. It seems as though we have being talking about solar panels and wind turbines and thorium reactors since former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, was in office. What seems to have passed many of us by, however, has been the absolute global explosion in renewable capacity over the past five years. The first term of the Obama Administration alone saw more solar panels installed in the USA than in all other years combined. China is deploying immense amounts of solar capacity in its bid to cut the growth in its emissions. This is driving down prices and dramatically increasing efficiency. Solar power especially now puts out more electricity at much lower cost, so low that it can even compete with coal in certain areas.

The fossil fuel industry is dying and they know it. Some in the industry are trying to diversify, others to rent-seek through expensive government lobbying and engineering campaigns that create doubt around climate change. Others are trying to waste our time and destroy our environment by pushing new wasteful and expensive technologies to access fuel we cannot even burn.

I seek assurances from the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, regarding the legal consequences of the EU-Canada trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. We saw little resistance from the Government-----

The Senator's time is well up.

This is an issue that is very important to my heart and I would like a longer time to debate it. The Bill is to be welcomed and I am delighted to see the Minister of State here today.

I share the previous speaker's concern about CETA. This was debated in the House and the whole arrangement was discarded by Seanad Éireann, which voted against it. This was largely because of the court structures involved and the fact that commercial entities could sue. The public good, the public interest and the welfare of the people was regarded as less significant than the profit motives of the big international companies. In conjunction with my colleague, I want the Minister of State to give reassurance that the fracking companies could not use this mechanism to take on Ireland.

The fluctuations in the world oil industry have rendered fracking less significant than it was previously. We all remember seeing on television the people in Canada switching on their water and their tap bursting into flames. It was very interesting to watch it. Fracking is a very violent intervention in the natural world. The United States of America has its Environmental Protection Agency, which is a laugh. President Trump has installed as his Secretary of State the CEO of Exxon Mobil who was against the whole idea of environmental protection. Trump is a complete clown and he has no interest whatever in protecting the environment.

I welcome this Bill but I have certain reservations about it. The original Bill was introduced by Deputy Tony McLoughlin, and we should all be grateful to him for so doing. This Bill was sent for pre-legislative scrutiny to the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which spent a considerable time on it. The committee wrote a report for the Dáil suggesting various amendments and so on. What does the Government do? It produces its own Bill, completely ignoring the recommendations. The committee members might as well not have bothered doing it. That the Government completely ignored the committee's recommendations is very worrying.

There are a number of aspects of the Bill that are difficult. The definition of "hydraulic fracturing" is narrow and weak. It allows for the possibility of the fracking industry developing new techniques that are not covered by this legislation. The definition of "internal waters" is inadequate. It does not cover service water or groundwater. There is a proposed sanction of a six month prison sentence for offenders, but where is the policing mechanism? There is no policing mechanism at all, which is also worrying. There is an absence of a definition of "land". There is a very comprehensive definition of land in the EU habitats directive. Why could this not have been put into the legislation? Internal waters are listed but it does not specify groundwater at all. This is also worrying. Many people have lobbied me on this matter and they have raised these concerns. It is important we get the ban on fracking because without it, these operations will continue in places such as Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Clare and other parts of Ireland. We must be very careful.

Climate change was mentioned. Today is a glorious day. It is heavenly and everyone is enjoying it but in Ireland, a small island in the north corner of Europe, we are enjoying Mediterranean temperatures. The year 2016 was the warmest year on record.

A record temperature was recorded on both land and sea. It is wonderful for those of us who want to enjoy it but it is very worrying. As a result, the state of New York has banned fracking since 2014 because the US Department of Health and Human Services found that the risks associated with fracking were dangerous to people's health.

The Sustainable Water Network, SWAN, in its report shows the risks of water contamination related to unconventional extraction techniques such as fracking. The report reads:

Due to the many documented impacts on water attributed to hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, combined with the absence of a coherent effective governance and regulatory framework for the industry in Ireland, it is the Sustainable Water Network position that hydraulic fracturing should not be permitted in Ireland ...

It is SWAN's view that the carrying out of hydraulic fracturing and other shale-gas activities in Ireland is not consistent with the achievement of good status for our surface waters or ground waters, nor with the prevention of deterioration in water status, and therefore should not be permitted in the context of meeting EU Water Framework Directive and Groundwater Directive objectives.

In terms of the question of spills and chemicals, the information that we have gathered already is extremely worrying. Research has found that "spills of additives and hydraulic fracturing fluids", which are chemicals, "during the chemical mixing stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred and have reached and impacted drinking water resources." We have direct evidence that the introduction of chemicals into this process has actually contaminated water sources. That is a very worrying point.

The research continues, "Spills were caused most often by equipment failure or human error." This is a company with a complete lack of monitoring. It does not monitor the spills at all. How do we know where we are? I can tell what happened to the people of Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

I am just finishing. The research continued:

In Bradford County, Pennsylvania, a well blowout resulted in a spill of approximately 10,000 gal (38,000 L) of produced water into a tributary of Towanda Creek [...] The largest volume spill identified in this assessment occurred in North Dakota, where approximately 2.9 million gal (11 million L) of produced water spilled from a broken pipeline and impacted surface water and groundwater.

That is an astonishing amount of water to lose. I cannot think of better arguments to reject fracturing in this country.

As no other Members are offering, I call on the Minister of State to conclude.

I thank all of the Senators for their contributions here today on this important Bill. I also take this opportunity to commend Deputy McLoughlin on his work. As most speakers have stated, the local community groups, like the Love Leitrim campaign, in places like Leitrim, Roscommon and elsewhere have brought this to the fore. They have lobbied, campaigned and proposed that their local elected representatives at county council level would pass and agree motions at their local authorities. Obviously people have campaigned in the run-up to a number of elections, which has achieved widespread cross-party support. Indeed, I have not met anybody yet or certainly nobody has publicly stated in either Chamber that he or she agreed with fracking or were supportive of onshore fracking, which is welcome.

I acknowledge that Senator Leyden from Fianna Fáil has expressed support for this Bill. Certainly, that support was reciprocated in the Dáil as well. I agree with his concern about the possible impact, were fracking to go ahead, on the River Shannon, our pristine waters and the impact on the environment. Again, he acknowledged the work of the organisation called Love Leitrim. The concerns that he recognised are raised in the EPA's research programme and by Deputy McLoughlin's Bill.

Tamboran's licensing option is no longer in place. No drilling activity was allowed under this option. With the enactment of this Bill, no licence to allow fracking can be granted. Indeed, there was a moratorium for a number of years when the former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd were in office so, effectively, there was a ban. Subject to the passing of the legislation in the Seanad and signing into a law, there will be a legislative ban.

Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue in terms of the entire island of Ireland. The matter has also been raised in the Dáil. I did undertake that if I was reappointed to my position, which I have been, and when the Northern Ireland Executive is up and running, and I hope that happens soon, I will raise the matter at cross-departmental meetings. I shall do so because I think it is important to put the views and wishes of Senators on the record in such fora.

Offshore fracking is not an economically viable technology in terms of Irish offshore, which is a very expensive activity. Drilling offshore involves very deep drilling. Using fracking as a primary methodology would make drilling offshore in Ireland prohibitively expensive. That said, I do not disagree with anyone's call for a debate. As Senator Conway-Walsh has said here and other Deputies have said in the Dáil, it is important that we maintain this Bill as it is in terms of prohibiting onshore fracking. We should debate offshore drilling again on another day. I believe we should go through the process of holding hearings in order to hear from all sides. We should have independent research carried out and go through the process at committee. I wish to acknowledge that the Senator's party, and that of Deputy Stanley, withdrew its amendment on offshore fracking to allow this Bill to progress.

Senator Lombard commended Deputy McLoughlin for bringing forward this important legislation. Senator Lombard said that it was important that the legislation goes through. I thank the Fine Gael Party for its work and support. I also thank Deputy McLoughlin for his work.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan mentioned the importance of all-party support, the Green Party's support and the support provided by local communities, and the fact that Ireland has signed up to the Paris Agreement. She pointed out that we are in transition to a low carbon economy. For the time being, natural gas and fossil fuels will play a part of the transition. We must speed up the change to renewables. We are anxious to see that happen but decisions must be made. At present Moneypoint runs on fossil fuels and is powered by coal. Moneypoint is reaching the end of its lifespan. Therefore, we must decide what will happen to such an important generator of power and electricity.

Issues relating to the research programme have been mentioned. They were scrutinised by the Oireachtas joint committee and, therefore, they were taken into account in terms of Deputy McLoughlin's Bill and welcomed by all parties in the Oireachtas. Deputy McLoughlin has produced a stand-alone Bill. We felt, as a Government, and on the advice of the Department, that the best thing to do was to amend the existing legislation but ensure that the Bill formed part of that amendment. That is why the name of the legislation has been changed. We have ensured that the original words in the Bill's Title, concerning the prohibition of the exploration and extraction of gas, were retained. It was important to ensure that the word "prohibition" was retained. Existing legislation was amended to prohibit fracking onshore.

There will be a transition period for the use of renewables. That aspect has been clearly set out in the energy White Paper.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, cannot prevent a sovereign state legislating in the national interest. It should be noted that France has already declared a statutory ban on fracking and CETA has made no move against France.

On 31 January, Mr. Matthew Collins, assistant secretary, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. He stated:

The moratorium declared by Ministers on any fracking activities in Ireland has been in place since 2011 and continues. No applications have been approved.

It would appear that the State has not encouraged any investment in this regard. His opinion of the prohibition was that Ireland is entitled to regulate the area or activity in question without contravening CETA. That is the advice that we received about fracking but I have noted the concerns expressed by Senators.

Senator Norris has expressed his support for the Bill, which is welcome. He also touched on the whole area of CETA. The text of the Bill and the changes to the Bill have been agreed with Deputy McLoughlin, to ensure the prohibition is retained, albeit now as an amendment to existing petroleum legislation. The wording reflects his views and the recommendations made by the Oireachtas joint committee. I also know that he consulted with various local groups who were in agreement on the proposed changes.

The Oireachtas joint committee made four recommendations. First, the terminology of the Bill should be revised, which it was. Second, an enforcement mechanism should be included in the Bill, which it was. Third, any potential drafting deficiencies in the Bill may be best addressed during the Committee Stage debate in the Dáil, which they were. Fourth, the scope of the Bill should be expanded to take account of other activities.

We provided clarification to people who had concerns about geothermal technology. The Bill takes into account the concerns that were expressed by the committee following the comprehensive research it undertook. That covers the points raised.

I thank the Senators for expressing their support for the Bill. I hope it will go through Committee and Remaining Stages in the Seanad next week and that we can deliver it to the President for signature. Again, let me thank Senators for their support for this very important Bill.

I thank the Minister of State.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 27 June 2017.
Sitting suspended at 3.55 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.