I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 128 together.
I have made it clear on a number of occasions that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors. Under the EIA Directive, it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.
In this context, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has commenced a process to issue a public call inviting interested parties to tender for the offer of funding from both the EPA Strive Programme and my Department to conduct detailed research on the use of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction in Ireland, in particular with regard to the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. The study follows on from the preliminary research into the environmental aspects of shale gas extraction, conducted by the University of Aberdeen, which was published by the EPA in May 2012.
The proposed terms of reference for this study have been developed and are currently the subject of a Public Consultation Process which was launched on 11 January 2013. Interested parties have been invited to submit written comments by 8 March 2013. Further details are available from the EPA website (www.epa.ie ). The final results of this study are expected in early 2015.
As I have confirmed to the House on a number of previous occasions, no decision will be made on any proposal for the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling in Ireland until there has been time to consider the outcome of this further EPA research.