Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction: Environmental Protection Agency

The purpose of the meeting is to engage with the representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency on the unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme of the EPA. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Dara Lynott, deputy director, and Dr. Brian Donlon, research manager, of the EPA.

I wish to draw our guests' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any submission or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I ask Mr. Lynott to make his opening statement.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation to discuss unconventional gas exploration and extraction. As members will know, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is an independent statutory body established in 1993 under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, with a wide range of responsibilities, including regulation of large-scale industrial and waste facilities, monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment, overseeing local authorities' environmental responsibilities, co-ordinating environmental research in Ireland and radiological protection. The main role which the EPA would potentially have in regard to unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects would be its regulatory role though integrated pollution control licensing, whereby a licence would be required for onshore extraction of shale gas on a commercial scale.

The EPA does not have a regulatory role at the exploration stage of these projects but is a statutory consultee with respect to any environmental impact assessment conducted by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in assessing any applications received for exploration licences. The agency on behalf of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency commissioned research into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction, in particular hydraulic fracturing in shale gas.

The research programme is composed of five projects and will involve field studies, including baseline monitoring of water and seismicity as well as an extensive desk-based literature review of unconventional gas exploration and extraction practices worldwide. No fracking will be undertaken as part of the research programme. The five main elements include assessing impacts on surface waters, ground waters and related ecosystems; impacts on seismic activity; impacts on air quality; international operational practice and impact mitigation measures; and regulatory regimes for fracking in different countries.

I will respond to the observations listed in the correspondence from this committee to the EPA dated 4 November 2015. The first question related to the independence of the study. The unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme contract was awarded following a robust evaluation process in full compliance with procurement guidelines. The contract award procedure chosen for this competition was by open procedure. Six tenders were received. The evaluation panel included personnel with the capacity to make informed decisions on the tenders received. I have given details about the evaluation panel in a previous appearance before the committee. The constitution of the evaluation panel was approved by the joint research programme steering committee. The evaluation panel found that the tender led by CDM Smith Ireland provided the best response and a contract was awarded to the consortium led by CDM Smith Ireland Limited in August 2014. This consortium includes commercial consultancies, academics, a geological research institution and a legal firm, each offering a particular specialism required by the project scope, as was detailed in the terms of reference. It is stated as, "The proposed project team is expected to include members who have comprehensive understanding of geology and hydrology as well as an in depth knowledge of a range of legal, environmental, health, socioeconomic and technical issues, as well as knowledge of mineral and fossil fuels (preferably unconventional gas) extraction practices and technologies."

The second question regarded the role of Queen's University. The role of staff from Queen's University, Belfast, QUB, was to contribute to the joint research programme Project A1, which related to groundwater, surface water and associated ecosystems. Specifically, the three researchers in the QUB groundwater group were proposed to work on a number of Project A1 tasks, leading tasks 2 and 7 and supporting other tasks. Additionally, a full-time academic was nominated as part of the consortium's internal technical review team, with an internal review process carried out by the consortium before submission to the steering committee for Project A1. On appointment, QUB informed CDM Smith Ireland Limited that the three researchers would not be able to fulfil their agreed responsibilities on Project A1. Following discussion with and agreement by the unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme steering committee in November 2014, they were replaced internally with British Geological Survey and CDM Smith Ireland staff taking on additional tasks. However, QUB did not withdraw the permanent academic from the consortium's internal technical review team of Project A1. The full-time academic from QUB has since undertaken his review role in full on Project A1, as proposed in the tender, and our understanding is that this was done with the knowledge of the university and not in any independent capacity. The primary contributors to the overall research project in terms of staff resources are CDM Smith Ireland Limited and the British Geological Survey.

The third question was research into health impacts. The key research questions included in the revised terms of reference - I have circulated a reference to members - and they are:

Can unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects/operations be carried out in the island of Ireland whilst also protecting the environment and human health?

What is "best environmental practice" in relation to unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects/operations?

The EPA launched a public consultation on the draft terms of reference in January 2013, which closed in March 2013, with 1,356 submissions received. The EPA and the unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme steering committee reviewed the submissions and the draft terms of reference were amended and strengthened after the public consultation.

Section 4 was added to the revised terms of reference to clarify and clearly define the scope of the proposed research with regard to human health. The wording "human/public health" throughout this tender document refers specifically and is limited to potential health impacts deriving from impacts on environmental media, such as exposure to chemicals, vibration, light and noise, and pollution of environmental media, such as soils, air and water. In addition, the wording "protecting human health" refers and is limited to preventing environmental factors from degrading human health.

The unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme will not incorporate a health impact assessment as this was not part of the terms of reference signed off by the steering committee. However, there is a requirement in the terms of reference to specifically consider the potential role of health impact assessment in the regulation of unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects, based on the experience in other countries and to make recommendations towards developing a protocol in the island of Ireland context. The deliverables relating to task 3, the potential role of health impact assessment in regulation of unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects, will include a consideration of the approaches of other countries regarding health impact assessment to include but not limited to scope, process, timing, how it is used in the planning and permitting process, who carries out and evaluates the assessment, as well as recommendations for a protocol for Ireland regarding the potential role for health impact assessment in the regulation of unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects. The output of this task will form part of final report five.

I have circulated some examples of some specific references to "human health" in the terms of reference. I will not read all of them out but the first is:

Projects A1, A2, A3: Baseline Characterisation

Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth's crust (commonly in aquifers). A comprehensive understanding of both these topics is a basic requirement in order to make an informed decision in relation to the potential impacts on the environment and human health which unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects/operations may present.

There are a number of other references in the tender that are similar.

The fourth question was on the availability and use of research outputs. The next phase of the research project includes baseline monitoring of seismic and water resources to be completed by a supplementary tender as provided for in the framework contract for the research. The primary purpose of this aspect of the research is to provide a greater understanding of the quality of the water resources and flow regimes and to determine the baseline seismic activity in the study areas. The programme is intended to assist regulators, both North and South, in making informed decisions about unconventional gas exploration and extraction activities and operations. The data obtained during the course of the current research will provide valuable information on the local and regional environment to a variety of stakeholders both North and South. That includes Departments, State agencies, academics, people in the industry and the public.

The intention is that all the final and summary reports, as well as the datasets, will be made publicly available on an online EPA research data archive once the project is complete. In terms of the timeframe, the next phase, the supplementary tender, can only be started once the interim reports for projects A1 and A2, which include tasks relating to the specifications for the baseline monitoring network, have been finalised. It should be noted that the EPA wrote to the funders about confirming the securing of funding for the next phase, and is currently awaiting responses.

The last question from this committee was the intended purpose of the research. The EPA’s position with regard to activities using hydraulic fracturing is in no way predetermined. The EPA is an independent body which makes decisions based on scientific evidence, and it is envisaged that this research will assist with providing such evidence on the risks and environmental impacts of this emerging technology.

As an environmental regulator, the EPA makes decisions on applications for licences and permits for many categories of activity. The primary decision the EPA must make is whether to grant or refuse a licence, and under the EPA Acts the agency is statutorily barred from granting a licence to an activity which would cause significant environmental pollution. The definition of “environmental pollution” in section 4(2) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act includes “the direct or indirect introduction to an environmental medium, as a result of human activity, of substances, heat or noise which may be harmful to human health or the quality of the environment."

This research programme has been designed to produce the scientific basis to assist assessment of the environmental impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Ireland. The programme of research is intended to assist regulators both North and South in making informed decisions about fracking. Ministers in both the Republic and Northern Ireland have publicly stated that the issuance of fracking licences will be dependent on the outcomes of a thorough, independent investigation of potential impacts on the Irish environment. The unconventional gas exploration and extraction joint research programme will not replace, or diminish the need for, any of the statutory processes necessary to seek permission for a fracking licence or development.

In summary, research reports are intended as contributions to the necessary debate on the protection of the environment. The key questions this research needs to answer are whether this technology can be used while also fully protecting the environment and human health, and, if so, what is best environmental practice in using the technology. The question of whether the existing EU environmental regulatory framework is adequate for unconventional fossil fuel projects is also being addressed.

This research project will examine the potential health impacts deriving from impacts on environmental media, such as exposure to chemicals, vibration, light and noise, and pollution of soils, air and water. The project will also examine the mitigation of environmental impacts that have the potential to degrade human health. The research team will review health impact studies worldwide to explore the potential role of health impact assessment in the regulation of unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects or operations based on the experience in other countries, and recommendations will be made towards developing a protocol in the context of the island of Ireland.

In conclusion, this joint research programme aims to inform policymakers and other stakeholders on a range of questions in relation to environmental protection. We will get a series of reports that will help regulators North and South in coming to an informed decision if and when a licensing application is received for unconventional gas exploration and extraction in the coming years. I hope I have provided the committee with a satisfactory response to the five points of the invitation letter, and I am happy to answer any questions the committee members may have for me.

I thank Mr. Lynott for his presentation.

I thank Mr. Lynott and Mr. Donlon for coming before the committee. This is not their first time and I do not think it will be their last. I want to acknowledge the outstanding work done by groups opposed to fracking in my part of the country, with particular reference to Dr. Aideen McLoughlin, who has provided valuable assistance to those of us who need to be updated on the technical aspects of what is a very complicated process. There are quite a lot of questions. I know Deputy Colreavy will be putting some questions to the witnesses in the context of the information that has been provided to us. There are quite a lot of questions, so I will try to condense it as best I can.

Not only I but also my friends and neighbours in County Leitrim, who will be severely and immediately impacted by any decision to introduce hydraulic fracturing into my part of the country, are totally opposed to it. I will continue to be opposed to it. It is not in the best interests of the community in which I live and it will have a devastating impact on our largest economic contributor - that is, tourism - apart from the farming impacts on the ecosystem.

How can the EPA possibly justify having a survey where the main consultant is a company that is avowedly pro-fracking? Any investigation or research into its activities worldwide could not but come to that conclusion. How can it be independent if it is a pro-fracking company, which has assisted in the development of hydraulic fracturing as a process and continues to do so, particularly in Poland? How has this company ended up not only being one of a consortium of parties, as has been outlined, but also taking a leading role over the last 12 months? If one looks down the list published on the EPA website of who is undertaking particular tasks and projects, if it is not CDM Smith, it is AMEC, another pro-fracking company. That is the context of the question. At the end of this process, who is going to evaluate? Who is going to be the independent arbiter of the report once it is published? What will happen the report when it is published? Will a review or evaluation of the report be carried out either by the lead Department or by either of the other two Departments mentioned here? This survey, as it is currently being operated, is so deeply flawed in the minds of those who are watching and monitoring the development of the process of hydraulic fracturing in Ireland, to the point at which I do not believe they will accept the conclusions of this report, simply because CDM Smith is directly involved.

The witnesses have gone some way towards addressing the issue of health. One of the key questions raised by those opposed to fracking is how the operation can be carried out on the island of Ireland while also protecting the environment and human health. It was implied that a review of the impact of fracking on human health is included in the study. Maybe the witnesses could clarify and confirm that. I know they have made reference to human health issues, but which task will include such a review of health, who will be carrying it out and what medical expertise does this contractor have in the context of human health?

Irrespective of the issues surrounding the process of hydraulic fracturing, one of the major concerns people have - and which I have, thinking of my family in Leitrim - is the impact on health. Chemicals will be injected into a natural environment. Chemicals have consequences. They can, and will, in my opinion, interfere with watercourses. They will create pollution. It is perfectly obvious that the wastewater that is pulled out of hydraulic fracturing worldwide is not useable. It is contaminated. It raises other questions I will not go into now about what happens the millions of gallons of water used. Where is it going to come from, and what is going to happen to it?

The definition of human health in the terms of reference is very narrow and does not consider impacts on human health caused by a number of key items. I will not go into great detail on these, but they include radioactive releases from underground in the context of the chemicals, threats from fracking infrastructure and traffic accidents, and the risk of birth defects and fertility issues.

A range of issues can have an adverse impact on human health. The conclusion is drawn that even if a review of the health impacts of fracking was carried out in accordance with the terms of reference it would be incomplete. Does the EPA have an opinion on this?

My next question is on an issue which has been raised by Friends of the Earth in the very topical context of the climate change conference in Paris. Its view is that the research does not fully address damage to the environment if it does not address greenhouse gas emissions, but this is not an issue that has been raised so far in the report's terms of reference or in the tasks being carried out. I suggest that as the terms of reference do not require an appropriate assessment of the impact on climate change, if the Government decides to allow fracking based on this research, the decision will not be based on full information. I agree with Friends of the Earth's conclusions that we should ensure that any research that would influence future national policy takes into consideration climate change impacts. It is an important issue and perhaps the witnesses have a view on it.

Friends of the Earth raises another question which needs to be put to the EPA. The report does not ask fundamental questions on whether Ireland should extract fracking gas; rather, it is concerned with how to frack. In other words, the entire process screams with the view that the survey, which is led by a pro-fracking company, will conclude it is justifiable to introduce hydraulic fracturing in this country so long as the regulations are complied with and the EPA is happy that everything is regulated and complied with. However, international evidence has indicated that compliance has not happened and does not happen, and that even in the most regulated environments, accidents have happened. This is particularly the case when dealing with unstable chemicals. In the environment about which we are speaking, which is in my part of the country, there is absolutely no guarantee that there will not be accidents. This question needs to be addressed. Is the EPA able to tell us with any degree of certainty that the survey's conclusions are not about how to frack but about whether or not we should frack?

As the EPA has a leading role in climate change research and policy, it is important that it address these questions. If Ireland extracts its estimated recoverable shale gas reserves, will Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions increase, stay the same or decrease? This is one of the tests President Obama applied to the Keystone XL pipeline, which he recently rejected in the United States. It is a valid question to put to the EPA as the regulatory body concerned about the environment. If all countries extract their recoverable shale gas reserves, how would it affect our chances of staying within the globally agreed target of limiting global warming to less than 2°C? Mary Robinson, along with many others, cautions that to stay within 2°C globally, two thirds of fossil fuels must remain in the ground. I pay tribute to Eamon Ryan, the leader of the Green Party, who addressed a group of Deputies and Senators at a briefing organised by Dr. McLoughlin and her allies and supporters, which was very informative. Mr. Ryan made this very point. He believes that in light of the existing reserves worldwide there is absolutely no need to take out two thirds of the fossil fuels which are underground. This raises the question as to why Ireland should bother with hydraulic fracturing. Why do we need to do it? Why should we even be having this discussion?

A vote has been called in the Dáil, so we will suspend.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.20 a.m.

We will resume.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I apologise in advance if I do not get all the questions. Members might remind me if I miss anything. The first question was on the CDM.

The role of the Environmental Protection Agency is the protection of the environment and as part of that, it commissions what it believes is world class research, which is peer reviewed. That is a core part of why it is looking at the area of fracking. I emphasise that no fracking is going to take place as part of this research. Ministers have said that no fracking would take place until this research is over and there is no guarantee that fracking will ever take place.

With regard to the process, the EPA's corporate governance is scrupulous in how it procures and how it delivers a process to determine the outcome of tenders or calls for research. This is a sensitive area of research. There was an open call for research and the agency did not preclude anyone from applying to do it. It was a worldwide call and we only got six tenders in but this would not be uncommon for large pieces of research.

The evaluation panel includes 27 existing and retired personnel from organisations such as An Bord Pleanála, the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Departments of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency, ETH Zurich, Geological Survey of Ireland, the Health Service Executive, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, University College Cork, University of Bergen in Norway and Ulster University. The EPA relies on an esteemed technical group of people to inform it that the tender process for the evaluation committee is coming up with the right decision. They came up with CDM but it is not CDM on its own, it is with the British Geological Survey, Mason Hayes & Curran, Ulster University and other universities. It is not a research study that can be dominated by one individual or group. It must go through the consortium which includes the British Geological Survey, a reputable firm of solicitors, Philip Lee, and other universities, all of whom have reputations to uphold. The outputs of that research must go through the evaluation committee of 27 members with all of the criteria. That is why I have absolute confidence that the outputs of the research will meet the EPA's own standard in terms of quality and peer review and that it will be second to none. It will be as good as any research the agency has commissioned in the past 15 years. The EPA's research budget peaked at approximately €15 million per year but is now down to around €5 million to €6 million per year. The agency has very good practices, processes and corporate governance in place to ensure there is no bias within the system and the research can stand up to any research conducted by any other funder in Ireland or Europe.

When it comes to the evaluation of outputs, the 27 existing and retired personnel on the panel from all those organisations have to agree. I have confidence in those personnel to deliver the type of research required. I agree there are documented impacts associated with fracking. We know that because the EPA commissioned a worldwide literature review in advance of this current research programme. The review found there is potential for groundwater contamination from methane migration, impacts from chemical additives in the fracking fluid, treatment and disposal of flowback fluid, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. The EPA's own research tells us that these are issues which must be dealt in any involvement the EPA might have in an application. The agency is legally obliged to accept applications and we have a quasi-judicial role in evaluating applications. Therefore, the evidence and science by which we make the assessment of the application must be second to none and stand on its own two feet. The assessment must be able to withstand judicial review and as part of this work the agency is trying to get the information that will allow us to make a rigorous assessment of any application that may come to us in the future. The information will be equally available to the public, to other regulators both North and South and to industries, if they wish to use it, as is all the agency's environmental data. The EPA is trying to move forward on an open data front that provides all its datasets free of charge on an EPA website and it is working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to try to provide open data in a format that is of use to anyone anywhere in the world, and it will continue to do this.

Climate change is a huge topic. We have more fossil fuels under the ground than the world can take right now. Whether these fuels are extracted is a matter for international policy, European policy and Irish policy. These decisions will be made by the Oireachtas and the Government. It is purely within the remit of legislators and the Government to take a high level decision that fracking must not take pace in Ireland. Using this research, the EPA is trying to prepare the basic information that would allow the agency to fulfil a statutory role which it may be called on to fulfil in terms of basic groundwater data. This is not the only area EPA researches. It researches other controversial issues, such as genetically modified organisms and nano-particles and materials. Research is about getting data and information for everyone and putting it out there, it is not about arguing a particular point of view.

Will climate change stay the same or will it increase if we frack?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Absolutely. If more fossil fuels are dug from the ground and burned, whether from the sea or land, it will create greenhouse gases. That is a fact. The EPA has a significant role in preparing the inventories for Ireland to determine whether Ireland complies with the Kyoto Protocol, which has gone, and the new targets for 2020 and 2030. The EPA knows it is still very challenging for Ireland to meet the renewable energy targets, particularly as Ireland's development is dominated by transport and agriculture. To add significantly more fossil fuels into that mix will make it very difficult for Ireland to meet 2030 targets or 2050 targets. This is why the renewable energy targets and the reduction of greenhouse gases by 85% to 90% by 2050 is a challenge for Ireland. There is a huge policy issue to be decided in terms of where Ireland gets its fuel in the future and where hydraulic fracturing, offshore gas and oil or imported gas and oil sit within that challenge.

Dr. Brian Donlon

Tasks four and five in Project B look at a comparison in life cycle assessment of communal impact compared to other energy sources in other jurisdictions. It is published information.

I have one brief supplementary question. If fracking was introduced into Ireland, we would not be talking about a small number of wells but about hundreds of wells in a landscape that would not be able to absorb that. Could Mr. Lynott confirm that the cumulative effects of hundreds of wells in Leitrim, west Cavan, Fermanagh and the Lough Allen basin are being addressed in this survey? What would the consequences of the process be? I understand the EPA is addressing the issues relating to what goes into the ground and what comes out of it but the physical consequences would be horrendous.

I do not think anybody fully realises what fracking would mean in physical terms on the landscape. Is the EPA aware of the consequences of that for the environment?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Two levels of assessment can be done. We are developing policy on biofuels and energy as a country. There is a possibility that significant national impacts can be assessed through a strategic environmental assessment process. It is up to the various Departments to carry out a national assessment of fracking in its totality across the island of Ireland. On a lower level, there is an environmental impact assessment which is project based. If any regulator or agency were to evaluate any application, it would have to go through the EIA process.

In terms of our research, we are looking at the impacts on health and the environment associated with the activity of fracking. We are aware that in order for volumes of gas to be commercial, a number of wells would be required. I am not an expert in this area; I will be reading this research as much as anyone else to find out what the issues are. If assessment on groundwater contamination, methane migration, the impact of chemical additives on fracking fluid, treatment and disposal of flow-back fluid and greenhouse gas emissions is done for one well, it will also generate the data for 100 wells. That will be put against what is one groundwater resource, one surface water resource and one air quality standard that we are trying to do for Ireland. It can be ramped up and then it becomes closer to the environmental limits that would be in that area.

Mr. Lynott gave robust reasons setting out how this is independent. Further to Senator Mooney's question, the perception is that the two companies involved are pro-fracking. Mr. Lynott has not commented on the perception. Could that have been avoided? Despite the reasons Mr. Lynott gave, there is a perception that they are in some way linked to gas and oil exploration companies. Would it not have been better for the study if that perception did not exist?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There was a choice to be made. The choice could have been that only those firms without any involvement in, advice on, or even any information or knowledge of fracking could apply.

Did any companies have considerable knowledge without being involved with oil and gas exploration companies?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I will answer the point in terms of CDM. CDM already operates in Ireland. It is a legitimate reputable company that is doing a considerable amount of work on the water framework directive in terms of characterisation of our rivers and so on. That is the first point.

I am not suggesting it was. What I am asking is-----

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am just making that point. The second point is that as a large company, it takes on a full range of work. The work it has done is to advise governments and regulators in different countries, contributing to outcomes that have both permitted fracking operations in the UK and Poland, and also caused moratoriums to be imposed in German states. It advises on both sides, depending on the countries it is involved in and the work that it gets. This is a very similar argument - I have full sympathy for it - as applied to some of our large legal and accountancy firms. Owing to their size and capabilities they can be - even though they will refer to Chinese walls and all that - advising both sides of the camp. It is no different for environmental consultancies.

Let me add that we specifically took the decision to seek companies that knew about fracking so that we would get the best advice, commercial or otherwise.

No companies tendered that were not involved with-----

Mr. Dara Lynott

I cannot answer that question directly because I was not on the evaluation committee. It would be doubtful given that there was a conscious choice about the tender sought. I quote:

The proposed project team is expected to include members who have comprehensive understanding of geology, hydrogeology as well as an in-depth knowledge of a range of legal, environmental, health, socioeconomic and technical issues, as well as knowledge of mineral and fossil fuels, preferably unconventional gas-extraction practices and technologies.

We went out to seek firms that had expertise in this area because the choice we made was that it was better to get that expertise and to get the best advice we could.

I welcome the guests. Is it not highly unlikely that the EPA would have been able to acquire expertise of this nature, which is so specific to a very narrow section of science and technology? Indeed, is it not highly unlikely that the expertise available would not be connected in some way to industry?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The principal procurers of scientific expertise in the fracking area would be firms involved in fracking or thinking about fracking. They would commission environmental research. Therefore, the expertise would reside in firms that have done work in this area and advised governments, regulators, etc., in this area.

Would it not be fair to say that the vast majority of money being invested in research in this area is coming from the commercial sector and not from the state sector? Is it not in their interest to have the research?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am not sure if I would agree. I do not have the figures to date but we are aware of substantial research done by governments and particularly the US EPA and the EU Commission. I am not sure if the same level of research has been commissioned by the sector itself. I would need to get some figures for the Deputy but I would bet that the non-commercial sector, particular governments and regulators, are probably the biggest procurers of research in this area, principally because they are trying to fulfil their statutory roles for the protection of health and the environment over a regulatory role.

I would like to ask Mr. Lynott about the relationship the EPA has with other environmental protection agencies on the matter. What level of engagement does it have with its EU counterparts or the US authorities on this? I look at this very coldly from an outsider's point of view. In the US, it is open season on fracking at the moment, which would not inspire confidence in a person who has legitimate concerns. What level of engagement, if any, has the EPA had with the US EPA?

My understanding is that fracking is basically the injection of air and water under high pressure into the ground, which bursts the rock open and releases gas. The geological survey map of Ireland reveals that many of the areas that would be regarded as potential fracking areas - the limestone areas of east Clare, Galway, Leitrim, Sligo, Donegal, west Cavan and across the Border - are also areas susceptible to high levels of radon, if one looks at it very coldly and without looking at it without major levels of research. Would it be fair to say that if rock is burst open to release methane, other gaseous elements could also be potentially released? Nature has designed that they be released over tens of thousands of years. However, injecting water and air under high pressure to burst the rock open could release gases other than methane or other organic hydrocarbons.

It could release carcinogenic elements such as radon. Has that been examined?

I know the study is at an early stage but if water is injected under high pressure and elevated temperatures it will cause the precipitation of a salt, maybe sodium chloride or sodium with other halogens attached and it will wind up in the aquifer. How is it taken out of the water? A person who bores a hole on a half acre for water might have to go down several hundred metres before hitting a good quality source of water but will have no idea of the geology gone through to get to that level. God alone only knows what will happen if water and air are injected-----

Even it is only water and air, as it is supposed to be, there is no indication as to what happens the geology on the way down. My biggest concern is that vein of territory, starting on the shores of Lough Derg in east Clare up to the border between Cavan and Fermanagh, is very susceptible to high levels of naturally-occurring radon which we can deal with if it is allowed to be emitted naturally. What is the effect when man sticks his oar in and encourages it to be released faster and over a shorter period?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The Deputy is right, radiological elements follow geology and there are drinking water sources in Ireland that have certain levels of radioactivity principally because they come from a rock. Radon is also an issue and when it coalesces and becomes denser it is a problem. When it is unconfined it is not such of a problem. We are very aware of that. The Office of Radiological Protection, ORP, is on the steering group and one of the scientists will make that evaluation.

Ground water is very difficult. In our research, which predated this research, we indicated that in terms of how any of this activity could be licensed and still meet the very rigid requirements of the ground water directive, it is nearly prohibited. We are not trying to decide whether it can be done but we definitely will have a fuller understanding of the problems that have to be overcome or maybe cannot be overcome in the way of introducing anything into ground water. We hope this research will add more information. The Deputy is right that it will be very difficult to do this on a stand-back basis.

In respect of international groups the EPA, representing Ireland, participates in an EU technical working group on environmental aspects of unconventional fossil fuels. The working group consists of member states, the European Environment Agency, the EU Commission and the purpose of that group is to assist in identifying and addressing knowledge gaps, act as a platform for information exchange so we will definitely bring this research into that group to share what we have seen, and to contribute to the Commission’s efforts to assess where the existing EU environmental legislation ensures an appropriate level of protection. It is moving closer to the view that its current laws are all right in terms of the ground water, water framework and air quality directives. We are very tuned in to what is happening internationally. Our inspectors are involved with the EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law, IMPEL. Senior management of the EPA is involved with a multiple agency network that involves Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. We are also involved with the European Network of Heads of Environment Protection Agencies. That is also a forum for discussing issues such as this. We all face the same challenge, how to protect the environment and health and get the information that will tell us how best to do that.

Would it be fair to say that the advice, if any, coming from the EPA in the US, is not carrying the same weight as that from the Europe because we are inside the shed and the horse is half a mile down the road?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There are difficulties in that the geological and hydrogeological setting in the US is much simpler than in Ireland.

Mr. Dara Lynott

No, I am not saying it is lax. It is easier to research because of the consistency of the characterisation of geology and hydrology. It is difficult to apply that research to Ireland because our hydrogeological and geological setting is much more complex. The research is good within its context but one of the prime reasons for commissioning this research was that we did not have location-specific data that would help us determine what this means for Ireland. It is difficult to take US EPA research in its totality, given we have such different ground water and geological regimes.

Is it not a bit unbelievable that the geology in Wyoming or Utah or Montana would be so different from the geology in Ballinamore or Virginia? That is unrealistic.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I refer the Deputy to the research report that preceded this one, which is on our website and went into that detail. That might address the Deputy’s concerns.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. They spoke about different governments and bodies doing research in this area. If they are doing so much research would it not be a good idea to get the whole gear, the boring gear, the whole lot to make an independent study? I am not accusing anyone of anything but CDM Smith has sent us information about its contacts in gas exploration and oil companies. It would be like asking me to do full research on a bog because I am involved in a bog. Has it not dawned on anyone to set up our own unit to make a completely unbiased analysis? It could be funded by the EU, for the betterment of all the people of Europe, or funded by Ireland and England because it affects people north and south of the Border. It could involve Queen’s University Belfast or wherever, colleges here and the EPA. Has that ever been considered?

There are chemicals pumped into the water in America. Where does the water needed for fracking go afterwards when it is contaminated? We are trying to build tourism in this country, yet we could also damage the long-term interests of the country by going down a different road that could have grave consequences for our water system.

Has this side of it been examined by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA? Has the agency thought about getting its own gear to carry out an independent survey? People are sceptical about what is going on. We were told it was a Queen’s University Belfast set-up. Now, we find that there were agencies which did not take part and one company that did had ties with the gas and oil industry. I am not accusing that company of anything. When the EPA was putting out contracts for this, did it decide that it was better to do this independently as fracking is a new activity in this country? One wrong mistake in this and the consequences will be ferocious for the whole country, not just the parts where fracking will occur. Has the EPA done that?

Mr. Dara Lynott

It is very hard to disprove a negative. What I mean by that is that we are talking about bias before one output has come out of this research to date. The art of science is the art of disproving. Someone puts out a hypothesis. It becomes a theorem which then becomes a law. In that process, people try to disprove what is there. All we are doing is putting out information that will be open to everyone, as part of the scientific method, to say they got it wrong, this is biased or this is incorrect.

I get the Deputy’s point that there is a much greater acceptance by the public of research that is commissioned by the Government, regulators or unbiased agencies. This would not be the first time that the EPA has researched into topical areas. We have seen that with genetic modification, nanomaterials and nanoparticles. The EPA's sole role is the protection of the environment and health. We have no other role except that. The only reason we are doing research is to fulfil that role. As an independent agency, we do not get funding from oil companies or whatever. We are totally funded by the taxpayer and the fees we generate through our own activities, such as licensing and enforcement. We have completed a process we feel is of world standard. We know that because we are involved with the Horizon 2020 EU research programme, as well as other multi-country joint programming initiatives and research. We know the way we scope, tender and execute our research is as good as anywhere in the world. We feel we have done the same in this case.

I fully accept there are concerns because CDM Smith, in the past, has been involved in advising both pro-fracking and anti-fracking governments and people might see it could be biased. That is not the view of the EPA. At the end of this, there will be a series of reports and data that will be open to everyone to decide whether they are appropriate, biased or not, or whether they got the facts right. We are totally open to that. If the scientific method of disproving the science continues, we will have added to that debate. That is not to say, however, that we should not have the debate or shut it down.

With 27 individuals from 15 State bodies, as well as those in the consortium, including Phillip Lee Solicitors, the British Geological Survey, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin, I am confident it would take many people and much persuasion to get all those involved to one view that is biased.

After seeing the water problems in America and other places where there was fracking, would Mr. Lynott drink the water there?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I do not know is my honest view. We have commissioned research which has done a worldwide view. It has said there will be issues associated with groundwater contamination, fracking fluid, treatment and disposal of flowback. These are all the issues and we know these exist from our US EPA research. What we are trying to do is find out if these known impacts could be amplified in an Irish context. It is then up to policymakers, legislators and Departments to take that information to decide which way they want to take it. Regulators like An Bord Pleanála, the Commission of Energy Regulation, the Health and Safety Authority and the EPA, have to take that information and use it as best they can.

We know there are issues. We are trying to find out if those issues could be amplified in an Irish context which has a much more complex geology and hydrogeology. If they are amplified, that raises the bar of whether fracking can be regulated in any way in Ireland. This is what this research will tell us.

I thank the delegation for attending the meeting. It is a bit like déjà vu. I have so many questions that I will probably be guillotined.

I will give the Deputy as much time as possible. However, if the Deputy has many questions that cannot be answered today, the EPA could come back with the answers to them.

That will be fine.

At same time, the Deputy should keep to a reasonable time because there are other members who want to contribute.

The next phase of the project involved people going on lands with equipment to do measurements. At what stage is that?

Mr. Dara Lynott

It has not started. It will not start until the first phase of the project has been finished. Basically, the first phase would have involved identification of groundwater and surface water issues. On the basis of that, it will determine how many groundwater wells there will be and where. We have not finished the first phase. We anticipate finishing it in the next month or so. Following on from that, the last action will be to determine the scope of work for putting in groundwater wells and seismic testing in the area.

It will not be done until next year?

Mr. Dara Lynott

It is highly unlikely that it will be done this year.

Who is overseeing the process?

Mr. Dara Lynott

That process will be overseen by the steering group of 27 members. Everything proposed by the research consortium goes through the evaluation panel. It determines, on the best scientific evidence, what is the best way to proceed.

If tenders have to be put out and people have to be assigned to various areas, who specifically will be leading out this phase?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am not sure. I need to get the exact details as it is quite a complex process.

What about CDM Smith's role in all of this and its independence? What is the role of Queen's University Belfast? I am asking because I believe this committee was misled. What about the public health impact? What about the groundwater study done by the EPA three years ago? What about Lough Melvin? I want to share with our witnesses the political feel that I have gotten from talking to many Deputies and Senators. Who is driving the train towards fracking?

Mr. Kenneth Spratt

I am joined by Mr. Carroll, the head of our renewable energy division, Mr. Stjohn O’Connor, head of our energy efficiency division, and Ms Mairéad McCabe, head of our energy planning and co-ordination division, with special responsibility for the European Presidency.

Our Department is fully committed to working closely with our colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on implementing Government policy on energy and climate, including the development of a sectoral road map for energy. In adopting a cross-departmental approach and aligning our respective road maps, the determination shared across the board is for a robust framework that allows us to adopt appropriate measures within realistic, but ambitious, timelines. We note that the explanatory note to head 4 states the national and sectoral low-carbon road maps are aimed at achieving transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy in a cost-effective way and as soon as possible, and not later than 2050. From an energy policy perspective, our Department is mindful that sustainability and cost-effectiveness must be accompanied by paying due attention to energy security. Adopting a national and integrated approach in close discussion with other Departments will facilitate the development of workable policy that is effective in terms of sustainability and energy security.

It is important to recall the various 20s from the 20-20-20 EU plan. While we are focusing today on the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, the European Council and the directive are committed to increasing by 20% the energy efficiency in the Union and to reaching a target of 20% renewables in total energy consumption in the Union. My Department is leading Ireland's delivery of these two other targets. While we are facing many difficult challenges, we are making very steady progress and are on track to reach the goals.

Reaching the energy efficiency goal and the renewable energy goal will make a significant contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions goal. Energy policy in Ireland and most developed countries is founded on the three pillars of security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability. More recently, as we consider updating our energy policy paper, we have been mindful of the opportunity that energy policy presents in terms of growth and jobs. After the Presidency, we will turn our attention to the policy paper. Members will notice a significant focus on the jobs and growth agenda, which has been uppermost in the Minister's mind and a major focus of the Government.

It is important to understand the unique characteristics of our energy mix. We are heavily dependent on imports of oil and gas from neighbouring markets. Against that backdrop, our renewable energy capacity has continued to expand, with increasing use of wind power feeding into the grid. Despite the difficult economic situation, reform and modernisation of the energy market has been steady, with implementation of an all-island electricity market, entry of new players into the competitive retail electricity and gas markets, and substantial investment in infrastructure. Progressive liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets has been a positive move.

I have already mentioned our proactive energy efficiency policy. We wish to embrace the benefits of new energy technologies, particularly demand-side management tools on a smart grid tailored to suit our local circumstances. Our efforts are aimed at making progress towards 2020 goals and anticipate even further greater ambition after that year. Meeting ambitious objectives and balancing competing values will require considerable analysis and sound modelling at both national and European levels.

As we face the end of an era based on fossil fuel and transition towards another based on establishing new energy systems, based on renewable energy and incorporating new technologies, we must employ sound data and evidence to develop accurate modelling scenarios that will enable us to make sound predictions on a more scientific basis across the range of sustainability, security and competitiveness.

Head 5 of the Bill emphasises the need for due consideration to be given to the economic impacts of the national and sectoral road maps. I am thankful that good work has been done on developing sustainability-focused models, but much more needs to be done to develop good quality predictors and models based on energy security and competitiveness. We anticipate working closely with colleagues in other relevant Departments to ensure the full impacts of options for the sectoral road maps are clear.

I will touch briefly on a number of recent developments in order to give the members some important background context to the Irish energy scene. The in-depth country review of Ireland, conducted by the International Energy Agency in 2011 and reported on in July 2012, contained many positive comments on the direction being taken in the Irish energy market. In its key recommendations, the agency urged actions to support the drive towards a low-carbon economy, including the development and deployment of new carbon technologies, in which Ireland has an advantage; ensuring that participation in regional energy markets brings benefits to our customers; and emphasising the balancing of local community concerns with the benefits of critical energy infrastructure. It also recommended in its report that we outline a plan for emissions-reduction targets and that we update our position on developing low-carbon strategies and plans, which is why we are here today. It recommended that we clarify the position on carbon tax and explore synergies between the energy and agricultural sectors so as to contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it identified a number of actions on continuing to strengthen our energy efficiency strategies and plans. There is good alignment between the Bill and the recommendations of the International Energy Agency.

Central to any future decarbonisation strategy will be the maximisation of energy efficiency opportunities, a point highlighted by the agency in its annual report entitled World Energy Outlook 2013.

Those are the broad areas.

If the Deputy wants to list a number of his questions for when we come back, he may do so now for a few minutes.

Let us start with Queen's University Belfast, QUB. This committee was given a clear impression that Queen's University Belfast was an integral part of this research project when the EPA last appeared before the committee. We were never officially informed that there had been any change in the dynamic or relationship between QUB and the study project. On the contrary, a number of statements were made by the Minister which indicated that Queen's University would be actively engaged in parts of the study and would be involved in peer reviews. QUB, in response to a freedom of information request, on 8 September, stated that the university is not part of the consortium specified above and is not involved with the UGEE project, and that the university's involvement in this area was limited to the provision of consultancy during the initial tender stage. That is not what we were given to understand by the EPA or by the Minister. Could I have their comments on that?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I have my statement from June last. When I was last before this committee, I stated:

The research is being undertaken by a consortium of independent organisations, comprising CDM Smith, British Geological Survey, University College Dublin, Ulster of Ulster, Queens University Belfast, [AMEC] Foster Wheeler and Philip Lee Solicitors.

On foot of the question I was asked today, I stated that the role of staff from Queen's University Belfast was to contribute to Project A1. Specifically, it was divided in two parts as follows: three researchers in the QUB groundwater group were proposed to work on a number of Project A1 tasks; and a full-time academic was nominated as part of the consortium's internal technical review team. Upon appointment, as can happen in any research, persons say that, although they signed up for research, they are busy doing other stuff. This happens all the time. It can happen, particularly between the tender for research going out, a response coming in from those who want to do the research and these people being notified that they are good to go on the research. As a research body, we get that all the time.

We will have to suspend.

I will respond to that when we come back.

Okay. We will suspend the meeting.

Sitting suspended at 12.05 p.m. and resumed at 12.20p.m.

We will start the meeting again. I apologise for all the disruptions but we have no control over the votes. I ask the people in the Gallery to avoid going in and out as much as possible to keep the meeting running as smoothly as possible. I would appreciate that. Deputy Colreavy was in possession.

I had put a number of questions and the witnesses were going to respond.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I read out my statement from June regarding the involvement of Queen's University Belfast and I was in the middle of saying that, in the normal run of things, personnel will change between an invitation for expressions of interest by a research funder being issued and the confirmation that a research body has been awarded a research contract.

We still have a full-time academic who is part of the internal technical review team and who is part of the consortium. We still see invoices from Queen's University Belfast, which are being invoiced to the project associated with that statement of member. What might explain the difference is that there is a difference between what I would call the corporate entity that is Queen's University Belfast and the research or academic bodies which individually apply for research projects. Again, as a significant environmental research funder in Ireland, we would have multiple academics within various universities who avail of the administration and facilities of their colleges in applying for research funds and completing research but are distinct from what I would call the executive of a university. That is the only explanation I can give for the letter the Deputy has obtained.

Would that not diminish the value of any report to which they give their tacit agreement?

Mr. Dara Lynott

"No" would be the short answer. This is the way research is carried out not only in Ireland but internationally.

Does Mr. Lynott regard it as an academic, peer-reviewed paper if they are not sponsored by the university?

Mr. Dara Lynott

They are sponsored in that they operate within the university, provide services for the university and avail of administrative services and facilities within the university but, as academics, they are also free to research any topics they so wish within their chosen fields. The peer review does not happen at a university level. The peer review is conducted by other universities and peers outside their initial research group. An academic would not be peer reviewed by fellow academics within the university.

I understand that but can I take it the other universities involved in this study are operating under the same circumstances?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Yes.

So they will be reviewing each other's work.

Mr. Dara Lynott

No. There is an internal and an external review.

What does "internal" mean?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The internal review is carried out within the project team. Within the project team, there is CDM Smith, the British Geological Survey and the University of Ulster. As a project team, they decide the end product that will go to an external evaluation panel. In the context of the inside of this consortium, Queen's University plays a role. The particular role the academic plays is as an internal reviewer for the consortium as to the quality of its work. It then decides, as a consortium, that it is happy it has fulfilled the requirements of the terms of reference and it puts it forward as its output for the research. The output is then evaluated by the 27-member panel that is being put in place by the EPA for the sole purpose of peer reviewing the outputs of the consortium.

Has anything gone for external review yet?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Everything is reviewed by the evaluation panel. To give an example of a typical process, after an award of contract, the successful researchers would prepare how they intend to do the work. That would be reviewed by the external panel. They would then do the work and, as part of that process, they would give status reports. Those are reviewed by the external panel. Then there would be interim outputs at various stages on an ongoing basis. In terms of meetings, the steering group has met approximately every quarter.

Are there overlaps between the internal and external panels?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Not overlaps. The internal process delivers an output that is put before the steering group that meets approximately each quarter.

Are the same agencies involved in the internal and external reviews?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Not that I am aware of.

Dr. Brian Donlon

Some of the reports are reviewed by people who have not been involved in it to date. I am talking about the internal review. They could be independent Irish consultants or independent consultants from Germany, for example, who were not involved in drafting the initial report. They review the reports and send them through to the EPA, which then co-ordinates the review carried out by our own external people.

I will probably need a little more information on that one. I continue to be unclear on it. Can we go back briefly to the next phase of the work? We are not talking about this year but sometime next year. Will people who will be going onto lands have a legal right to enter onto the land without the landowner's permission?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I would not anticipate any illegal activity would take place as part of this research.

That is not my question. Will they have the legal right to enter the lands of landowners who do not give them permission to do so? Do they have that legal right?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I would say that it would have to happen with permission. All of this work would have to be done in a legal fashion. I imagine to avoid committing trespass, one would need permission.

Will there be a question of payment to the landowners?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I have no idea.

Surely it would impact on the project budget.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I will outline the circumstances of how that decision gets made. The first projects have to conclude, which will set a scope. That scope will go to the consortium. The consortium will then think about the scope and how best to do it. It will then prepare how it will do it. That will go back to the evaluation panel. The evaluation panel will say if it looks reasonable or not and then it will go back to the consortium, possibly with amendments, and it will carry out that piece of work. None of this has happened.

In the tender for this supplemental work we stated:

The successful framework operator will be responsible for negotiating with landowners to

i. Obtain permission to enter onto lands suitable for the installation of the additional monitoring points; and

ii. Use and have access to the additional monitoring points as well as making any payments arising to landowners in respect of losses-inconvenience incurred by them as a result of the operation of monitoring points on their land.

Has it been quantified yet?

Mr. Dara Lynott

No. It has to go through the process, to which we have not yet got.

Budgetary control must be interesting on the project.

Mr. Dara Lynott

Absolutely. There is an outer bound of budget, from which there is no escape.

Mr. Dara Lynott

It has not yet been determined. Given that the supplemental tender has not yet been issued, there is another step. While we could very easily quantify the beginning and the end of the research, given that it involves much review and existing expertise, like most construction projects in which one has to put boots on the ground and install infrastructure such as wells, it is very difficult to quantify it. At the start of the research a decision was taken that when we reached this stage, we would develop and issue a tender and get a price for it. That has yet to happen.

Is there an overall budget for the project?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There is an overall budget for everything, except the supplemental tender. The agency is working from a budget that includes the entire research programme without the supplemental tender.

Will there be other supplementary tenders?

Mr. Dara Lynott

This is the only one.

Does Mr. Lynott understand my concerns and those of the committee and the public that a significant change to what was stated about Queen's University's role in the project was not notified to us but was unearthed only on foot of a freedom of information request made by an organisation concerned about fracking in Ireland?

Mr. Dara Lynott

While I accept that there are concerns about many aspects of the research, I refute any suggestion I have misled the committee, given what I said to it in June, which I have just read, and the fact that I have said it is normal practice. No matter what the project, whether a tender for consultancy services or any other aspect or research, it is normal for people to change. The three researchers proposed for tasks 2 and 7 changed. CDM Smith approached the steering group with an acceptable plan. If the steering groups believes CDM Smith has the appropriate people with the appropriate expertise who can perform these tasks, I am happy to stand over the decision.

Companies such as CDM Smith will do work we assumed would be done by QUB.

Mr. Dara Lynott

QUB is still involved in the consortium.

Mr. Dara Lynott

CDM is not the only member of the consortium. It also includes the British Geological Survey, University College Dublin, Ulster University, Amec Foster Wheeler and Philip Lee Solicitors.

Many of them have connections with the oil and gas industry.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I have no comment to make on it.

It is a statement of fact.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am not sure what evidence the Deputy is relying on in stating UCD has links with the fracking industry.

I said "many" of them. Mr. Lynott is aware of the companies to which I refer. It is small wonder the public have concerns about its independence and that the committee finds it hard to have confidence in a project in which significant changes have been made. But for the good work done by the groups studying it, we would not have known to ask the question. The change should have been made known to us. I am not saying Mr. Lynott misled the committee. At the last committee meeting he described precisely the position. However, there was a significant change and the committee was not advised of it. An anti-fracking group did the good work and obtained the information under freedom of information legislation, which prompted us to ask the question this time and Mr. Lynott answered it. Without the freedom of information request, we would not have known to ask the question. That is not good.

Mr. Dara Lynott

We are statutorily required to fulfil all of our freedom of information obligations. We also respond to questions the committee asks us and have responded to and complied with any request it has made that we attend before it. At all times we have been open and direct with it about our role as a commissioner of research that is being conducted by a consortium and overseen by an independent body of 27 individuals from 13 or 14 regulatory bodies.

I would have expected a significant change such as this to be notified. I ask the EPA to notify the committee if there are further significant changes to the composition or work arrangements which have not been notified to the committee.

Mr. Dara Lynott

We would be happy to oblige with any request made by the committee.

That is not the point. The point is we did not have the information to ask the question. If there is a significant change to the composition of the project team or the roles or responsibilities of the team members, the committee should be made aware of it.

Mr. Dara Lynott

We will be happy to oblige and provide any information the committee requires in that regard. The environmental research projects the EPA manages on behalf of the people involve over €8 million worth of research and hundreds and, in recent years, thousands of researchers, who change. If the committee believes it is important to know the composition of the committees engaged in this research, we will be happy to oblige. Although we do not view it as a significant issue, we are happy to oblige the committee by providing any information it requires, if it believes it is a significant issue.

While the committee would not have discussed the particular point, I imagine it would believe it was significant that information given to it had changed and that it should be have been made aware of it. If it was important enough for it to ask in the first place, any change in the response should also have been notified to it.

We do not have much information on the public health impact. I would have thought the public health impact would have been examined in longitudinal studies. While the documents reference the public health impact assessment, there is no detail on the scope or scale of the research or who will conduct it. Will the chief medical officer be involved? Will a Government agency sign off on the health impact assessment?

Mr. Dara Lynott

No health impact assessment is being made as part of the study. There will be a review of health impact assessments that have been made internationally of fracking and their outcomes.

We will also look at all literature that has been developed in terms of environment impacts associated with fracking on air, groundwater, surface water, soil etc., and any health impacts associated with those environmental impacts will also be assessed. This is a quantitative review of what is available in terms of a HIA. It is with a view to getting the best of what is available internationally, putting together a programme of how a HIA would be done in the event that fracking is ever done in Ireland and that these are the steps that would meet best international practice. We feel that is of value particularly to policymakers, legislators and other regulatory authorities that they would be aware, through this research, of all the appropriate steps for doing a proper HIA if fracking ever takes place in Ireland.

There was a lot of public confusion about that because people understood there was going to be a health impact assessment as part of this study. I understand Mr. Lynott has clarified that and it is on the record. Can I move to the groundwater study that was conducted by the EPA, perhaps three years ago?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am not sure which study the Deputy has in mind, perhaps he can provide more details.

A study was done which showed the level of susceptibility to groundwater contamination in various parts of the country about two years ago. I think it was conducted by the EPA.

Mr. Dara Lynott

As part of our characterisation of groundwater and geology we would have looked at ground waters and how protected they are by the soil on top. For example, the Burren in County Clare has very vulnerable groundwater, as it has very little soil on top, as has east Galway and Gort, which have very fractured limestone, or groundwater is interchangeable with surface water. Various studies have been done in the past that would try to give information as to what areas are most appropriate for land spreading. Land-spreading on top of the Burren is not a good idea but land-spreading in County Meath with significant soils over groundwater is a good idea. We would have been involved in multiple studies of that nature.

I remember reading at the time that the area of the north west which is threatened with fracking was classified as being highly susceptible to groundwater contamination.

Mr. Dara Lynott

A map would have been produced by the Geological Survey of Ireland which would have classified groundwater as vulnerable. I am not sure what the other characterisations would be. I would imagine that some parts of the north west would have been classified as vulnerable. Again, the criteria would have been the type of soil in front of it, whether there was exposed bedrock and various things on that but I do not have the map to hand.

Yes. I remember it stated that the area of the north west was particularly susceptible to groundwater contamination which begs the question, why is this study happening?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I want to be clear, there is no fracking taking place as part of this research study.

Mr. Dara Lynott

No fracking is going to happen until this research study is finished and fracking may or may not ever happen in regard to this. However, it is appropriate for an independent agency, such as the EPA, to do a baseline survey of groundwater quality, particularly in the north west which has complex hydrology and geology, in order to equip itself with its statutory responsibilities which may arise in the future if an application ever comes to it for fracking. It may also be of value to the public in its own assessment and also all the regulatory agencies, legislators and policymakers as to how best to deal with fracking in the future for Ireland.

Who makes the ultimate decision in terms of "Yes" or "No" to fracking?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There are a number of decision makers. It could be a policy issue in terms of an energy paper that could decide the policy for Ireland in a broad sense. There are regulators such as the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources which could say "Yes" or "No". So also could An Bord Pleanála, ComReg and the EPA. There are multiple gatekeepers to this whole process.

Would it be within the remit of the EPA to come up with a recommendation or does the EPA publish a report but no recommendation?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There will be no recommendation in this report as to whether to proceed with fracking or not to proceed with fracking. What it will set out is the risks to the environment and to health associated with fracking. It will be up to others to use that information as part of their assessment to determine whether fracking goes ahead or does not go ahead.

Would the EPA include mitigation factors?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I would say that as part of the assessment of the environmental and health risk, one would have to look at the source, the pathway and the receptor. As part of that one would look at mitigation measures, some may be successful, some may not. I would assume that the research would look at the success or otherwise of mitigation factors that have been applied in other countries.

Would it not amount to a recommendation?

Mr. Dara Lynott

No.

It is a statement of the-----

Mr. Dara Lynott

It is a statement of the situation. We will not be recommending that one use this mitigation over that mitigation. It is for others to use the information as set out in the research for their own ends.

The EPA would not have any legal responsibility for decisions made on foot of the report.

Mr. Dara Lynott

No. Research is research, it is science, it is data. It is up to others to take that research and use it as they will. It has no legal standing. People can ignore it if they so wish or take parts of it or take all of it if they so wish.

May I just get to the last point because I promised to share my experience with the witnesses.

That is fine. I want to be fair. The Deputy has 25 minutes but if he is getting towards the end-----

I am. Mr. Lynott will recall the expressions of interest invited in regard to this matter were issued by the last Government and that the permits were issued just as the last Government was breaking up. I am not making a political point because for me this is not political. Since I became a member - because I live in the area and, hopefully, my children and grandchildren will live in the area that is threatened with fracking - I have been speaking to many Deputies and Senators and almost everyone will acknowledge that it is a pity these invitations to submit expressions of interest were ever sent out. If we knew then what we know now, on the basis of research that has been carried out since the expressions of interest were submitted, we would not do it. We are doing a detailed, expensive study. We have a population which is very concerned about agri-tourism, agrifood, fishing, that the waters will be poisoned, that the houses will diminish in value and that the place in which they live and love will be turned into an industrial wasteland. All of this was done with no public discussion and no political discussion.

My concern is that this whole project seems to have taken on a momentum of its own. There is a train heading towards fracking and I do not know who is the driver. It does not appear to be the current political system, if one wants to call it that. I am not being critical because decisions are made based on a level of knowledge that people have at the time. Almost all of the political opinion here, and certainly those I have earmarked, have reached a stage where they are darting into doorways if they see me coming because they have a good idea of what I am going to talk about. The overwhelming response of Deputies and Senators is that it was wrong ever to look at this. Who is in charge? Who is driving that train?

The EPA is a passenger on that train.

Mr. Dara Lynott

To give the Deputy a short sequence of events, the EPA determines its own research strategy and publishes it, stating we are interested in research in certain areas. Since we are charged with protecting the environment and the health of the people, we also look at issues coming down the tracks. We see that as a very important part of research, not only to research what has happened but to research what may be in the future.

As part of that and before this research, knowing when we began to see fracking on our horizon that we, as an agency, needed to find out more about it on behalf of the people, we commissioned preliminary research which set out a range of issues of concern to regulators, which issues I have named and which include contamination of groundwater and so forth. That research recommended that some in-depth research needed to be conducted in the context of Ireland and not in the context of the United States, France, Poland or wherever. We accepted those recommendations and on foot of that decided to commission further research that would give us the information we require to do our duty as an environmental regulator.

On foot of us commissioning that research, other decisions have been made not to give exploration licences. Policies on energy are being drafted but they are in parallel to research. Research goes on its own track, but based on a strategy that has been developed and which is open for consultation. In terms of consultation, approximately 800 people provide input to our research strategy and also, in terms of the scope of work for this research, we received 1,300 or 1,400 submissions. We have widely consulted on this.

We see our role as researching not only good matters but controversial matters, and not only what has happened but also what could happen. We see that as an integral part of our role as an environmental research funder.

Given that Tamboran, albeit in a different jurisdiction, is seeking a judicial review against the Stormont Executive, would it have been wise not to issue any permits until such time as this research had been concluded and examined and studied by the political system and others?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I cannot respond to that, principally because research goes on a different track from the political system. Legislators, such as the committee and the Governments, North and South, must make decisions themselves. We are conducting research that will be available to everyone to use as they will. I cannot respond as to why other regulators do or do not do what they do.

I will submit the list of detailed questions.

If the Deputy wants to submit questions, we will get responses.

I note there is a vote in the House and we will have to suspend again. We must have the meeting finished by 1.45 p.m. I would ask members who want to ask questions to come back directly and we will try to wind the meeting up as quickly as we can.

Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.

As we only have 30 minutes, we will go straight to Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. If members confine their questioning to three or four minutes, we will get everyone in.

If we have half an hour, can we not have a little longer?

There will also be responses and there are three delegates.

I will try to ask very direct questions and receive direct answers, if possible.

Mr. Lynott described those involved in the study as independent. How can he possibly claim organisations such as Amec and CDM Smith are independent? Is it not misleading to say these organisations are independent?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I said the EPA was independent and that, in terms of the research study, we specifically asked for people with experience in this area and preferably of hydraulic fracturing. I also said the research would be peer-reviewed and that the individuals involved in it had to sign conflict of interest agreements. I referred to the independence of the EPA in commissioning the research and that of the evaluation committee in assessing whether it stood up to international scrutiny. Based on the tender, we are relying on the expertise and scientific integrity of all those involved within the consortium to deliver world class peer-reviewed research.

Does Mr. Lynott not think Amec and CDM Smith have a hopeless conflict of interest? Is this not obvious as they are involved with oil and gas companies?

Mr. Dara Lynott

They have signed conflict of interest agreements.

What does Mr. Lynott mean by that?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I will read exactly what they signed up to.

Will Mr. Lynott summarise it? Do they not have a hopeless conflict of interest, given their association with the oil and gas industry?

Mr. Dara Lynott

As I indicated to the Deputy, we specifically looked for people with expertise in geology, hydrogeology and, in particular, hydraulic fracturing. I have indicated that CDM Smith has 5,000 employees and advises a slew of clients, including regulators, countries and private entities. It has advised on the pro-fracking side in Poland and on the anti-fracking side in some German states. One will find the same with any large consultancy, legal or accountancy firm; they provide a service which is used by various people for other purposes.

I put it to Mr. Lynott that they do not. Amec is part of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a pro-fracking coalition. I will read from its website: "Our customers, in both the private and public sector, are among the world’s biggest and best in their fields - BP, Shell, BR Petrobras, KNPC ... Suez ... ExxonMobil". The list goes on. Mr. Lynott does not say it is independent, but how can he seriously suggest it does not have an absolutely massive, overwhelming conflict of interest?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am totally aware and have provided the committee with the information that Amec is a member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group that has developed best practice guidance on shale gas extraction in North America. We are also aware that CDM Smith was a member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and that it resigned from it in 2010-11.

I am also aware that we required the leading parties in this consortium to sign documents on conflicts of interest. The work they are doing must demonstrate scientific integrity and meet the requirements of organisations such as the British Geological Survey, UCD, Ulster University and Philip Lee. It must be assessed by an evaluation committee with 27 members.

My time is running out. I just do not accept this. Under all the headings, including ground surface and water, water requirements for fracking, faults and fractures, air monitoring, water impacts, mitigation measures and life cycle assessment, CDM Smith is listed. It goes on and on. In some cases Amec Wheeler Foster and CDM Smith are not only carrying out the studies but also reviewing their own studies. CDM Smith dominates this entire process. Is it not simply the case that this is a corrupted process?

Mr. Dara Lynott

As I said this morning, the primary contributors to the overall research project in terms of staff resources are CDM Smith Ireland and the British Geological Survey. I said that in my opening statement today but I am also saying we have provided a scope that has been evaluated by 27 members from 12 or 13 different regulatory agencies to ensure the quality of the research meets international standards, is scientifically expert and robust and will stand on its own two feet. However, as we have not produced any reports associated with this research, when the final research outputs are prepared, it will be up to others to determine whether we have succeeded in providing world-class, peer-reviewed and robust research.

I have made my point. I put it to Mr. Lynott that this whole exercise has been completely compromised from the word go by the involvement of CDM Smith. It has been predominant at every level and clearly has a very strong interest in fracking going ahead.

In one sentence, what is the purpose of this study?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the environmental and health impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing in an Irish context.

If the health department in New York has said it does not believe on public health grounds it is safe to allow fracking, how could it be safe in Ireland?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I have no idea. I will await the outcome of the research to tell me what the issue is. The particular hydrogeological and geological conditions in north-west Ireland are much more complex. One may find that the researchers will not only corroborate results of the New York study but also state this is a particularly sensitive area. Alternatively, they may state the opposite. I do not know what they will say. We are commissioning the research so we will know.

I will quote what was said in New York to Mr. Lynott: “DOH's report concludes that it will be years until science and research provide sufficient information to determine the level of risk HVHF poses to public health and whether those risks can be adequately mitigated.” The New York health department is operating according to the precautionary principle. In other words, it is saying there is no way anybody could, based on current scientific knowledge in this area, guarantee there will not be adverse effects on health. The New York Department refers to “health” but we could also include water and the environment. Is that not just a fact?

Mr. Dara Lynott

That may well be the case. Much of the research the EPA commissioned has taken international research and examined it from an Irish context, particularly given that, under current legislation, anyone who carries out fracking in Ireland will have to go through a series of hoops, including the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, An Bord Pleanála, the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Health and Safety Authority and the EPA. Those decisions have to be based on science. Our research will provide that science. The science can inform policy-makers and also those in the localities in which the research is done in order that they can be fully informed.

That is a very long answer. How could it be safe in terms of public health in Ireland if it is not safe in New York?

Mr. Dara Lynott

One must examine the study that preceded the research study in question. We carried out an evaluation of international literature that indicated there are many places in the United States where hydraulic fracturing can be done and many where it cannot be done. The EPA has been advised that the prudent step was to commission research that would put hydraulic fracturing and its impact on the environment and human health in an Irish context. That is what we do. We examine controversial research in addition to non-controversial research and we believe, as part of our role as the primary environmental researcher and funder of environmental research in Ireland, that it is prudent that we consider this ongoing controversial issue and try to put some science into the debate.

Is what is being said in New York not science?

Mr. Dara Lynott

It is. We are also going to develop science.

Mr. Lynott said there is no public health assessment in his study. Is that not what he said earlier?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I did not say that.

Is he going to be able to tell us at the end of the research whether there is a danger to health?

Mr. Dara Lynott

To respond to the question, I indicated there will be no health impact assessment completed as part of this research.

There will be no health impact assessment completed. Therefore, at the end of the process, Mr. Lynott will not be able to tell us whether there is a risk to health.

Mr. Dara Lynott

No. What we will be able to state is the environmental impacts. This work will not recommend in favour of or against fracking but will start to put together the science that will allow others, including the EPA, to evaluate whether fracking should go ahead in Ireland. This includes policy-makers and legislators. It will also provide for an assessment of what has worked well in other countries to develop a health impact assessment.

Does Mr. Lynott not think people really just want to know whether it is safe in terms of public health? That is what we need to know. Mr. Lynott is saying to us that, after all the research, we will not know whether fracking is a threat to public health, although they can tell us in New York.

Mr. Dara Lynott

What we will provide is the research in an Irish context that will let us know the issues associated with the environment and health arising from hydraulic fracturing. That is worth doing.

I welcome the witnesses. I question the wisdom of carrying out this study. I have figures from the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, implying the total cost is €1.75 million, which includes €500,000 from his own Department. This is excessive and it is wastage in view of the country's austerity programme. The money could be put to much better use to address problems such as hospital waiting lists, particularly given the controversial nature of the fracking industry and the questions associated with it. Has Mr. Lynott communicated with Britain, which has topography and geology very similar to ours?

This is a sham exercise, or a bit of a charade, and we have much more important things to be doing. We should have a moratorium on fracking in this country for at least 20 years, during which period we could learn the experience abroad. Ours is but a little island and fracking could have a considerably detrimental effect on us.

It was interesting that Mr. Lynott stated there is nothing in the study regarding the effects on health. I find that hard to justify. In the state of New York, the health department carried out a review in December 2014. In our study, there is an onus on the chief medical officer in the HSE and the Department of Health to become engaged. Health is a priority in addition to protecting the environment.

There is a clear conflict of interest for parties involved in this. The independence of the study must be queried.

The progress report, presented in September, shows that the bulk of the study is being carried out by CDM Smith and Amec Foster Wheeler, both of which are heavily involved in the oil and gas industry. Amec is reviewing regulations, legislation and the writing-up of best practice for fracking. Its client list also includes BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. We are told the research is undergoing internal and external independent review. The internal review is being carried out by the members of the consortium. For example, a task carried out by Amec is reviewed by CDM Smith and vice versa. This clearly is inadequate. The independent external review is being carried out by members of the steering committee. This, again, is inadequate and extremely poor practice.

I cannot fathom how this extensive research was commissioned in the first place. I will make a comparison with the process of acquiring planning permission for a domestic dwelling. Particularly in the past ten years, groundwater testing for percolation in sewage treatment systems has become very detailed. The EPA guidelines are barring a lot of people from setting up a family home in their own areas. I know of numerous people in my county of Kerry who have, more or less, been barred from building a house owing to extensive regulation. The EPA is adopting a very loose procedure in respect of fracking and appears to support that industry. At the same time, there are guidelines for groundwater testing in the case of a domestic house and people are being prohibited from building even on their own land. I find it hard to comprehend.

I advise the EPA to go back and become involved in the health aspect also. We are on a bit of a wild goose chase. I ask the EPA to come out with a very strong statement to the Minister. All it has to do is look across at the United Kingdom and the reports from there. The EPA has also carried out some preliminary investigations which should have found enough evidence to conclude that this not the way to go in this country.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I have to refute the suggestion that the EPA is pro-fracking. It is not in any way, shape or form. Like any statutory authority, it has a quasi-judicial function and it cannot carry out its quasi-judicial obligations with a biased view. As the primary environmental regulator and funder of research, it is appropriate that it should look to develop the science on topical and controversial issues, not only things that happened in the past but also future issues. Given that anyone who wants to engage in fracking has a legal right to seek planning permission, permits or licences from various regulatory authorities, it is also appropriate that the EPA should seek to provide the science to back up any future policy or decisions by these regulators. Our research programme has been reviewed extensively and the reviews are available on our website. We are benchmarked internationally in terms of how we commission and carry out research and the adequacy of our peer review process to ensure the science stands up internationally.

I welcome the delegation from the EPA. This is a controversial issue and the first I heard of it was from media outlets which referred to the mid-west region. When I poked around a little more, I found out that it was to be undertaken in County Leitrim and west Cavan in my part of the world. Are there plans for an extension into other parts of the mid-west region?

The problems with groundwater and the seepage of chemicals have been covered by other Deputies and Senators. It is a serious issue as there is a huge number of deep wells across the region. People depend on such wells for their supply of drinking water, as well as water for animals and domestic use, etc. This development would have a huge effect. I have seen seepage from silage pits destroy deep wells perhaps half or three quarters of a mile away. One well had to be closed for ten or 12 years. It had to be pumped out and various chemicals used to get it right again but only for slop water. It was never used to supply drinking water again.

Fracking, or gas exploration, involves the bursting of rock. When we start to interfere with the bowels of the earth, we do not know what damage we will cause, even several miles away. I have a genuine interest in this issue, as do people to whom I talk. It is important that we avoid the cultural and landscape rape of rural areas, given that there is a tourism product being developed in the mid-west and across the midlands. We do not want to see industrial waste sites being developed.

As was said, there are so many restrictions on people who wish to build their homes, including once-off housing, in the west. This is contradicted by what is happening in this instance. When Mr. Lynott was replying to Deputy Michael Colreavy, he spoke about the involvement in the planning process of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the EPA, An Bord Pleanála, etc., but he did not mention a role for the local authority. Will there be a role for the local authority in the planning process?

What is needed is an independent review before anything commences. There are a lot of ifs and buts because I know what is taking place is a desk study of the region. Other Deputies have dealt with the issue of CDM Smith. Will it share the results of the study with fracking interests?

I would like to know what the role of Achilles Procurement is in the entire process. Does it have any link or working relationship with fracking interests? Who decided on its role in the project? Is there not a possible conflict of interest? I understand Achilles Procurement has been retained by the EPA on a framework contract to provide services in advance and that it has been facilitated in the tender process and so on. Is that true?

Will Achilles Procurement be involved in the review of study results on an ongoing basis? Will it also be involved in reviewing CDM Smith's work or vice versa?

Mr. Dara Lynott

In general terms, Achilles Procurement just provides tender advice on procurement. Agencies like the EPA hire scientists, physicists and chemists who are not experts in the complicated area of procurement. We have seen situations where procurement has gone wrong with the taxpayer paying the bill where it was not prepared.

In a general sense, Achilles Procurement - we list this in our annual report - is one of the many contractors or consultants that an agency like the EPA would use to help it go through all the intricacies and complexities of procurement.

As regards this particular project, we probably would have sought-----

Dr. Brian Donlon

It assisted us in developing the terms of reference but it will not be doing any technical reviews of any technical geology, if that is what the Deputy is getting at, although I am not sure. However, it helped in the development of procurement.

Mr. Dara Lynott

Its role is to ensure we are abiding by all the laws regarding procurement. It has no actual role in terms of the project itself, so it does not advise on the scope of work but on when one should tender, how long one should leave the tender out there, how one should evaluate the tenders in terms of length of time, how one should inform people who are successful or unsuccessful and how one should communicate all that kind of technical detail. I think I have answered most of those questions. There were two or three questions on Achilles Procurement.

Local authorities develop regional and local planning guidelines. Within those guidelines, they obviously have a role because anyone seeking planning permission must abide by regional and national planning guidance. I am not a planning expert so I am not sure whether a project like this would go to a local authority first and then An Bord Pleanála, or whether it would be seen as a strategic piece of infrastructure and go straight to An Bord Pleanála. I really do not have any expertise in that area.

As regards this research, there is no fracking contained in it. No fracking activity will happen until this research is concluded and there is no guarantee that any fracking will ever happen in Ireland following on from this research. In terms of an independent review prior to a decision on fracking, this research is on a parallel track in that it will go through its own peer review as all our research does. It will stand on its own two feet. As I said earlier, in terms of science, once it is out there it will be up to anyone to form an opinion on whether it got it right or wrong and whether it is biased or unbiased. At the moment, however, none of that information is out.

Are any more areas being examined in the mid-west, apart from those ones?

Mr. Dara Lynott

No. Fracking follows the geology. My understanding is that the geology is fairly specific to a diagonal line from Clare to Leitrim, into Fermanagh and on into Scotland. It is part of the old Appalachian Trail where it used to join onto America. Therefore, it is defined by the geology and I do not think that geology goes into the mid-west.

Dr. Brian Donlon

There are minor parts of Roscommon and Sligo but the main ones are in Leitrim, Fermanagh and Clare.

Back where the Shannon rises.

May I ask one last question, Chairman?

Very briefly, yes.

Given the health concerns around this and New York, would Mr. Lynott support the terms of reference for this study being extended to include an assessment of whether there is a public health risk and involving the Department of Health in what the EPA is doing?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I would support follow-on research that would go into further detail in that area. I have no problem about that. At the moment, one is trying to sketch out-----

Mr. Dara Lynott

We are already in mid-train. We have already gone through a significant procurement and public consultation process. We have already signed contracts and have people more than half-way through the project. At this point, it would be too disruptive. However, the research the Deputy has sought would be a logical extension, building on the research that this project would provide.

Could I ask one supplementary question?

We are into injury time.

It will mean I do not have to send in the list of questions.

I thank the witnesses for their answers I certainly know two things now that I did not know before. First, the EPA is driving this project; I did not know who was driving the train. Second, the EPA study does not incorporate a health impact assessment. I was unclear about that as well.

I have two questions. The field trials or tests are to be carried out next year. Could the results of those be used by energy companies to get a firm fix on whether gas exists there, the levels of extraction, or the volume of gas there?

In hindsight, does Mr. Lynott think it would have been wiser not to seek expressions of interest until the project the EPA is working on now had been concluded and studied? Would the seeking and receipt of expressions of interest not raise the expectations of energy companies that there was going to be a result to the work they are doing?

That is a straight question.

Mr. Dara Lynott

The answer to the first question is "No". This study will not determine how much gas is there, where it is, or its viability whatsoever. Any of the drilling is solely to do with the depth, quality, direction and flow of the water. In terms of seismology, it will determine how stable or unstable the rock is there. Therefore, this will not provide any information to any potential extractor of gas about the viability or otherwise of the gas there.

In answer to the Deputy's second question, we believe the primary way to get an Irish-specific answer to the science that is needed here as part of this research project is to put in wells and test results. The issue is broader than this because if the manner of fracking never happens and is never taken on board in Ireland, we will have groundwater wells that will form part of a larger picture of what Irish groundwater quality is.

Irish groundwater is in pretty good condition. About 70% of our waters are in pretty good condition, so that makes the barrier much harder for anyone to come in with activities that seek to introduce contaminants into groundwater or surface water. Groundwater wells are part of that.

Earlier I mentioned Mason Hayes & Curran but I meant to say Philip Lee Solicitors. That was a mistake on my part. In case people think otherwise, I would like to correct that.

Okay. That is corrected.

Lough Melvin is one of the three cleanest and purest lakes in Europe and it is in the study area. I will not be sitting in this seat the next time the EPA representatives appear before the committee. However, they will be glad to hear that I will have more time to see what is happening with fracking.

We are not sure who will be sitting here.

I know one person who will not be, anyway.

On behalf of the joint committee, I thank Mr. Dara Lynott and Dr. Brian Donlon of the EPA for fully engaging with us. As there is no other business for the committee to consider, we will adjourn.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.50 p.m. until 3.15 p.m. on Thursday, 3 December 2015.