I have stated on a number of occasions that I do not propose to consider applications for petroleum authorisations in respect of projects proposing the use of hydraulic fracturing until the EPA Research Programme has concluded and there has been time to consider the findings.
In November of last year, the EPA launched a call for tenders to appoint the relevant expertise to conduct detailed research into the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The key questions to be addressed by this programme of research are (i) Can Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE) projects/operations be carried out in the island of Ireland whilst also protecting the environment and human health? and (ii) What is ‘best environmental practice’ in relation to UGEE projects/operations? In addressing these questions the programme of research will consider baseline characterisation with regard to water, seismic and air quality, potential impacts and mitigations and best practice regulatory framework.
I have also made it clear that should the EPA research conclude that this technology can be used in a manner that protects the environment, that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas programme would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment (EIA). An EIA entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climactic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage and landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors including cumulative impacts.
It should be noted that 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.