Do we want Fracking in Fermanagh?

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How many people know what ‘fracking’ is?  I knew little about this controversial new mining practice until a green-minded friend from Leitrim contacted me about it last month. Fracking is short for drilling for natural gas by fracturing rocks to get access to it.

I understand that the process goes something like this: holes are drilled into so-called ‘shale rock’ – which is common all over north west Ireland –  and a mixture of water, chemicals and sand is forced under pressure (using explosives) into the natural fractures in the rock, further widening them. When the water and chemicals are pumped out the sand stays behind, propping the fracture apart, thus allowing the gas to be extracted.

So far so good: another modern extraction process which may sound a bit hairy to the layperson but is necessary in an energy-hungry world. However the real problems arise when it comes to getting rid of the hundreds and thousands of gallons of water and chemicals used in this process. The experience in the US, where fracking is widespread, is not promising.

A recent RTE radio programme(1) reported on what had happened in Pennsylvania, where around 3,000 wells have been ‘fracked’ over the past five years. Here there are claims that chemicals from the process have seeped into the drinking water (although the gas exploration companies strenuously deny this). The programme quoted environmental scientists and ordinary citizens talking about how the estimated 500 chemicals used by the fracking companies could be dangerous to people’s health if they entered the water supply, even in very small quantities.

The problem is that fracking is a young and rapidly evolving technology. Last year companies in the US had to change the type of concrete they were using in their boreholes because it was allowing the water and chemicals to leak out. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Preservation has said it expects a ‘serious environmental concern’ of some kind for every 150 wells drilled.

The other side of the argument is that there are enormous reserves of natural gas in what geologists call the North West Ireland Carboniferous Basin in counties Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh. This could represent 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE, the basic unit used to measure gas production), worth €94 billion at current oil prices, though it could be much more if those prices keep rising. At a time of ever increasing oil prices and declining world reserves, and on an island with very few mineral resources, can we afford to ignore this gold well under our feet in one of the most economically under-developed parts of Ireland?

This was an argument frequently heard during the ugly and long-running Corrib offshore gas confrontation in north Mayo, so it probably won’t go down too well in Leitrim, Sligo and Fermanagh. In the first two of these counties it has become a live issue, especially around Lough Allen in Leitrim, where an exploratory  well was first drilled 50 years ago but where the gas that was discovered was deemed to be too expensive to extract…until now.

Two companies – the Australian Tamboran Resources and the Lough Allen Natural Gas Company – have been granted onshore gas exploration licences in the area. Tamboran’s chief executive estimates the chances of success at 75 per cent. The companies are currently taking rock samples. Once these are analysed, they can drill bore holes, followed by proper test drilling, which could involve fracking, in two years. Proper commercial drilling could be four years away, or more.

Shale gas has only become commercial in the past decade. Its share of the natural gas market in the US is expected to increase from 5 per cent to 45 per cent within 20 years. The production of shale gas has been endorsed by President Obama and was the subject earlier this year of a Time magazine cover with the heading: “This rock could power the world.”

However a powerful US documentary shown around Leitrim and Sligo over the summer paints a darker picture. Gasland chronicles the environmental degradation and health problems caused by the contamination of water supplies by fracking chemicals. These include dizziness, headaches and even irreversible brain damage, according to an environmental health scientist, Dr Theo Colborn, quoted in the film.

The New York State Assembly has now banned fracking despite strong pressure from the gas industry. The French Government has suspended all onshore exploration for shale gas until conclusive proof has been produced that it won’t harm the environment. The Canadian Government has declared a two year moratorium on such exploration. In Britain a major fracking operation near Blackpool in Lancashire was suspended in June following two small earthquakes which the British Geological Survey said were likely to have been related to the mining operation.(2)

It is maybe too easy to blow up stories of water contamination and minor earthquakes into a full-scale environmental panic. All the facts have not yet been fully aired, a process not helped by the less than forthcoming attitude to public information by the exploration companies. However in the north west an alliance of  green and community  activists is already busy organising meetings and raising money for possible court actions. This is starting to turn (with the usual hiccups!) into a cross-border campaign, with onshore gas exploration licences having also been granted to four companies in Northern Ireland, including Tamboran in the Fermanagh area. The governments in Dublin and Belfast need to tread very carefully – and have another long look at the environmental and health impacts of fracking – if they don’t want to be faced by a cross-border version of the deeply divisive Corrib gas dispute.

Andy Pollak

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEIAkA9pjZM

2 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jun/01/blackpool-earthquake-tremors-gas-drilling

  • carl marks

    Short answer NO, long answer NO FRACKING WAY.

  • JR

    Saw a program on fracking a year or so ago. The people living in the region could put a match to the water coming from the tap and it would burn like a blowtorch. look it up on youtube. has to be seen to be believed.

    Lough erne could be quite a fire hazzard.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    It’s also a question being asked in Antrim too – this from last night’s Moyle District Council agenda:

    16. Propose that Council oppose the possibility of the use of hydraulic fracturing in any stage of the gas explorations in the Rathlin Basin. (Requested by Councillor Cunningham)

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    With the increases in the price of Energy, I can understand that otherwise very expensive methods of extraction suddenly become viable.

    So far, the most promising potential energy project for extraction in Northern Ireland has been the potential mining of lignite in Ballymoney

    http://www.geographyinaction.co.uk/Issues/Lignite.html

    Have not heard about that one for a few years.

    As to Fracking in Fermanagh, this would presumably have to be a cross-border enterprise and involve quite a lot of negotiating and red tape before it began.

  • DT123

    Get on with it ,there was a large article about it in the Sundat Times ,and apparently the latest methods of extraction have eliminated the potential waste hazards.

    There is zero employment in the south of the province ,if this can create some ,get on with it.

  • carl marks

    DT123
    The energy companies claim that they he solved the problem, but I think we need a bit more than their word on this, in the past they have been known to be elastic with the facts especially when it comes to the environment.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    ‘The latest methods of extraction have eliminated the potential waste hazards.’

    Tambouran’s claims on this have been shown to be complete and utter bullshit, Chemical free fracking has never been done and they’ve never shown how it could be done. It’s a PR exercise to pull in the gullible and the ignorant. My guess is they’re going to start in Fermanagh because public opinion hasn’t been mobilised in the way it has been in Leitrim. If they get a hold there it’ll be too late, the water table doesn’t recognise a border.

    ‘Zero employment in the south of the province.’

    What does agriculture provide then? Or tourism? And no more than Shell in Mayo, they’ll be bugger all jobs locally. There will be a fair few richer landowners because Tambouran will offer decent money to get the land they want. You think you’ve got a divided community in Fermanagh? Wait til these boys start coming in waving their chequebooks.

  • iluvni

    I suppose that with the global warming scam discredited, the scare industry needs a new bogeyman…looking like fracking will fit that bill.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Controversial gas drilling did cause a series of earthquakes along the Lancashire coastline, a report today confirmed.
    Gas company Cuadrilla Resources, which is extracting shale gas in the region, commissioned the independent study after two tremors shook Fylde coastline in April and May this year.
    Energy chiefs have now sent a stark warning to the firm – either stop the earthquakes or be shut down.

    It comes after Cuadrilla held urgent talks with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to consider the report into the risk of earthquakes associated with ‘fracking’ – the process used to extract shale gas.
    The meetings followed the British Geological Survey’s conclusion that the two tremors felt nearby were most likely to have been caused by fracking.”

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2050025/Earthquakes-Lancashire-coast-WERE-caused-drilling-gas-experts-warn-energy-operation-threatened-closure.html#ixzz1bsUGqSE8

  • carl marks

    iluvni (profile) says:
    26 October 2011 at 10:16 am
    “I suppose that with the global warming scam discredited”

    When did this happen, by far the majority of those researching climate change regard global warming as a very real threat to our climate.
    There are some (mostly employed by the energy companies) who differ, but they form a very small and mainly discredited group.
    And the points being raised here are not to do with climate change, but as regards to water table pollution and that the process can trigger seismic activity.
    But dont that the facts stop you from doing a Jeremy Clarkson on the issue

  • thethoughtfulone

    Amazing that we always seem much more ready to embrace new technology that allows us to wring a bit more of the finite resources out of the planet, no matter what the consequences.

    Yet the technologies that would allow us all to live sustainably remain under-developed and/or ignored.

    Absolutely crazy!

  • iluvni

    Carl Marks,

    Did you keep a straight face when you wrote that about global warming, sorry, ‘climate change’?

    As for worries about water table pollution, I’d say the bigger threat in that part of the world is from Provo diesel laundering sludge, and cross-border dumping brought to us courtesy of the same unscrupulous scumbags.

  • drc0610

    @ Pigeon Toes

    you omitted to mention the following “Seismologist Brian Baptie said: ‘These were still very small earthquakes, even by UK standards and won’t cause any damage. If fracking continued I couldn’t see the tremors getting much bigger”

    Do you even know what a magnitude 2.3 “earthquake” feels like. Hint, the richter scale is exponential, most folk would not feel an earthquake up to a 2.9. You’d get more shaking from a truck driving past.

    As for Gasland, how many of the flaming taps were from private tanks?

    When did everyone turn into luddities?

    The greenwash has got a mighty head start on this one.

  • drc0610

    Andy

    “It is maybe too easy to blow up stories of water contamination and minor earthquakes into a full-scale environmental panic.”

    The Horse has well and truely bolted already.

    While there is legitimate concerns about the chemicals that were/are used the mehtod for addressing this through regulation shouldn’t be any more difficult than it is for any other industrial process.

    The “earthquakes” and flaming water are a different kettle of fish entirely

  • DT123

    What does agriculture provide then? Or tourism?

    Are you for real?

    As a quick example ,I have one friend who owns over 600 acres ,he farms it himself,with contractores to do silage and slurry.Another guy I know ,farms 400 acres with his brother and no other help.

    Tourism ,is a relative handfull of people.Have you looked outside in the last month?How many tourists do you think are in Fermanagh at the minute,or for the next 6 months?

    Fairly easy for you to sit at your computer in Belfast ,with your government job and pension and dictate your “green” agenda to the peasants down the country.

  • carl marks

    iluvni (profile) says:
    26 October 2011 at 11:11 am

    Carl Marks,

    “Did you keep a straight face when you wrote that about global warming, sorry, ‘climate change’?

    As for worries about water table pollution, I’d say the bigger threat in that part of the world is from Provo diesel laundering sludge, and cross-border dumping brought to us courtesy of the same unscrupulous scumbags”.

    Climate change and global warming caused by mans foolhardy approach to exploiting the resources of this planet are proven facts and should be of great concern to any sane person.
    As to the second part of your post, Yes diesel laundering (a nasty dirty business ) is a serious environmental problem but compared to the damage that fracking is capable off I’m afraid that it’s not even in the same league. Your argument seems that since the provos are doing it so we should do it also.
    Finaly its a bit strange that someone who uses the handle iluvni should show so little concern for a area that is one of NI /the north of the island/ Ulster (delete as appropriate ) treasures.

  • JR

    Carl,

    I wouldn’t bother. If the weight of the global scientific community can’t convince some people they will never be convinced. People who deny cilmate change are the modern day flat earth society. There is somthing about the Human mind that if a black crow lands in front of 100 people there will always be two or three of them they will argue it is white.

    Fracking may not cause any problems but due to other peoples experiance around the world and when you look at all we have to loose environmentally if somthing goes wrong I don’t think it is worth the risk.

  • iluvni

    No-one denies climate changes..its always has.
    Many questioned the claim that man was the prime cause of global warming, and when subsequent events demonstrated that the science had been corrupted by those making the claims, the goalposts were moved by the AGW industry…hence ‘climate change’ becoming the new mantra. Its could get hotter or colder and they were always correct. What a swizz.

  • http://www.nohotair.co.uk Nick Grealy

    Perhaps the question should be is whether Fermanagh and Ireland is so rich that they should keep on spending 1 billion euro a year in gas imports?
    Second question should be are the alleged risks so great that it’s worth tossing a billion euro a year away? Balance what might happen (water poison, earthquakes opening up, sky falling) against what will happen: One billion euro sent to the UK and Norway for gas imports.
    Third question: The difference between putting slurry directly on the fields or injecting recycled and treated waste water three k below them is what exactly?
    Visit http://www.nohotair.co.uk for a complete library on shale gas. BTW, New York State has not banned shale gas, they are currently proposing regulations to allow it.

  • JR
  • raftonpounder

    The Climate Change debate has been well voiced elsewhere and frankly I am bored of listening to people reduce every environmental decision back to a great conspiracy.
    Rather I would encourage people to look at Fracking in simple manner. You break open the ground and pump thousands of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground. What percentage of those chemicals do you think you can extract again before they have seeped in the water table and surrounding land? 20%? 60%? 80%? What is the acceptable level of these chemicals that should be allowed to seep into ground?
    I realise chemicals in a wide term with a huge spectrum of potential problems from massive to none whatsoever. These chemicals would be easier to place along the spectrum if Tamboran discussed what they planned to use instead of erroneously claiming they would do it without. (http://www.anglocelt.ie/news/roundup/articles/2011/08/10/4005993-tamborans-claims-of-chemical-free-frack-fluid-challenged-by-expert/ )
    It would be a complete abdication of the precautionary principle to allow this to go ahead. The importance of clean water should not need to be explained to anyone.
    The economic case is also spurious. It will create some jobs in the area but I imagine that fracking experts will be brought into these areas. It will create more jobs in the long run for environmental monitoring and clean up teams. The profits will be extracted with the gas and taken overseas. Why would they sell the extracted gas at a cheaper price to locals than take it out into the open market for profit maximisation? I cant imagne shareholders going for that.
    Can we ignore the “gold mine” that our island is in the middle of? Tidal and Wind Energy are proven, clean technologies which will also supply jobs with none of potentially poisonous consequences.

  • http://cork2toronto.blogspot.com Mark Dowling

    For me, fracking has to be HEAVILY regulated. All waste water treated on site, not piped to municipal treatment. All fracking solutions must have their ingredients declared IN FULL. An absolute ban on using diesel or similar fluids. If penalties for non-compliance don’t include loss of licence we’re wasting our time.

    Ireland’s universities north and south should look on this as an opportunity to develop world leading technologies which can get this done cleanly and safely.

  • Emma Green

    Arrange your own screening of Gasland in Ireland by visiting
    http://popupcinema.net/films/gasland

  • Congal Claen
  • JR

    Hi Congal,
    We were through this in March, I don’t want to hijack this thread or go into this topic again with you for reasons highlighted in my 12.40 post. I will just say though that the website you posted a link to has been funded by Exxon mobile, Chevron Texaco and Daimler Chrysler among others.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Lots of straw men arguments here. The subject isn’t climate change or diesel laundering (wrong part of the country for thel atter, treat yourselves to a map, boys).

    Dt123
    Your ignorance is spectacular but i’ll bite anyway. Tourism -important in Fermanagh, vital in Leitrim. Longest navigable waterway in these islands, you may have heard of it – the Shannon-Erne, well over 1/3 of it going through the 2 counties.

    Not so well up on the agriculture either, I’m afraid – your mates with the big farms – maybe they don’t employ anyone directly but what do they produce? Dairy, Beef, Grain – where does it go after the farm? Do they process it and put it in the shops themselves?

    Anyway, you won’t find many 600 or 400 acre operations either in the area affected. I’m fairly familiar with it because I live and work smack bang in the middle of it. Government job and pension in Belfast, my arse. Keep your presumptions to yourself & while you’re at it maybe educate yourself a bit better before you give us the benefit of your ignorance.

  • DT123

    TS

    Agriculture contributes,2.4% of NI’s GDP and tourism ,a smidgen over 1%.How much of that beef is processed in Fermanagh do you think? The creamaries probably employ a couple of hundred in both counties. As you “live in the “middle of it”,how much wheat , barley or potatoes are produced in Fermanagh or Tyrone come to that?

    Fermanagh and south Tyrone are crying out for decent jobs and if gas production is a realistic option ,it should be persued forthwith.

  • Cynic2

    Fermanagh has been fracked for years.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Must try harder than out of date GDP figures (Wikipedia??) but fairly irrelevant anyway to those of us in the middle of it. A more relevent economic argument if it’s not too micro for you – There are around 4000 farm holdings in Fermanagh and Leitrim (many of them part-time of course but still supporting a lot of people and important to the local economy and of course the physical make-up of the place) not to mention the other counties affected. Now who’s going to buy produce from any of them if there’s even a fear the fracking chemicals have got into the water and into the food chain? Who’s going to take a boat on the Erne or the Shannon if there are fracking chemicals in the water? Who’s going to come fishing? Might be peanuts to you but tourism is worth over £120 million to the area, a big deal for a small enough population.

    Onto the nitty-griity. And it’s very gritty. Fracking involves breaking rock deep below the surface to release natural gas within those rocks. This in itself causes leakage of heavy concentrates of the released gas in to the water table. Far more damaging is the drilling process which involves a cocktail of chemicals (up to 700 some harmless, others carcinogenic) being pumped into the ground to keep the rock open. Of course these chemicals will leak and the billions of litres of contaminated water brought back up has to be disposed of as well. Not to mention air pollution, depletion of the water resources (the amounts needed for the process are mind-boggling – it’s not called hydraulic fracking for nothing) and then of course there’ll have to be a giant pipeline to get the stuff out of here. More Corrib Gas field anyone? (will there be anyone left to protest by then?)

    The affected drilling areas will have drilling ‘pads’ of up to 12 acres every 2 sq km. The visual impact will be stark. It will change utterly a beautiful rural landscape to an industrial one within months. The mining companies are running rings around the authorities in Ireland north and south at the moment, the regulation process is flimsy in the extreme. If it starts it stays. Pardon the expression but they only have to be lucky once and if they are it changes the lives of thousands of people in the affected areas for ever.

    Fracking is banned in France and parts of Canada, the US and Australia.

    So tell us, how many long term jobs is all this worth for us?

    Should we trust the mining companies?

    And who do you think is going to make money from this?

  • http://www.e-consultation.org/ davenewman

    Even if fracking works perfectly, the result will be the production of more carbon dioxide, stopping more heat getting into space, so increasing the air temperature and the amount of energy driving the winds.

    The more oil or gas we extract and burn (as opposed to turning into plastic) the quicker the climate will change.

    Now if there was a way of storing carbon dioxide in the shale, that would be OK. But once the shale is cracked …

  • Melanie

    Updating Nevin’s comment – my understanding is that Moyle District Council passed that motion on Monday night to oppose the possibility of the use of hydraulic fracturing in any stage of the gas explorations in the Rathlin Basin.

    (The Rathlin Basin includes Rathlin Island and extends onto/under the mainland at Ballycastle, as far inland as Ballymoney and across to near Limavady. It stretches across the north coast including the Giant’s Causeway.)

  • Cynic2

    ” the result will be the production of more carbon dioxide, stopping more heat getting into space, so increasing the air temperature ”

    That all depends on whom you believe and the extent of the man made element of this as opposed to natural cyclical changes

  • Sluggerposter

    There is a free showing of gasland on Tuesday 15th November at the black box. I would highly reccomend this European report on Hydraulic Fracturing. http://europeecologie.eu/IMG/pdf/shale-gas-pe-464-425-final.pdf

    I’d be interested in comments for anyone who has bothered to read it!

  • drc0610

    OK, from Section 2.8 Discussion of Risks.
    “When state-of-the-art technology and trained personal is used the accidents and problems known from US activities can and will be avoided in Europe.”

    and

    “Remaining (small) risks must be balanced against the economic benefits of developing domestic natural gas fields.”

    I don’t see anything that a showstopper or why it cant be regulated like any other industrial process, such as nuclear power or drilling for oil.

    It will obviously have an impact on the environment, the aim is to minise this. Alternatively we can buy gas from elsewhere which dont regulate as much. And if you do that your just a massive NIMBY thats using the environment as a fig leaf to disguise the paucity of your arguement.

    A bit like the WWF report that claimed that the UK dindt need nuclear power stations and could use renewable sinstead. But this depended on beefing up the interconnector to france, which generates electricity by nuclear. Out of sight out of mind is intellectually dishonest.

    The report also notes that european gas production has declined and will continue to decline steeply, and that demand will continuer to rise.

    So what do we do about it. By it from the Russians? Reduce demand by exporting manufacturing to China. that’s worked out well.

    we need power from somewhere, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  • Majella

    Like SluggerPoster I have read http://europeecologie.eu/IMG/pdf/shale-gas-pe-464-425-final.pdf a report by the Duirectorate-General for internal policies at the European Parliament into “Impacts of shale gas and shale oil
    extraction on the environment and on human health”. Among other things it recommends “A publicly available, comprehensive and detailed analysis of the European regulatory framework concerning shale gas and tight oil extraction is not available and should be developed.” and “It should be assessed whether the use of toxic chemicals for injection should be
    banned in general. At least, all chemicals to be used should be disclosed publicly, the number of allowed chemicals should be restricted and its use should be monitored.”. There’s enough in here to make me very worried about the consequences of fracking (unregulated) in Fermanagh. My view is that the licenses already granted should be revoked and immediate ban place on the practice. You can support the campaign against fracking in N.I. by signing the petition at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/northern-ireland-no-fracking-required-here/signatures.html