EPA Terms of Reference “sideline basic questions” by Leitrim Observer, March 16, 2013
Some members of No Fracking Ireland Network have stated that the EPA Terms of Reference into the research of gas exploration and extraction “sideline basic questions about the environmental impact, danger to human health, and fundamental advisability of an extremely controversial process.” The believe the terms of reference focus on the development of ‘regulation’ for the fracking industry. The deadline for submissions from the public to the Terms of Reference for the EPA study into the environmental impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction closed on March 8. Some participtants in the No Fracking Ireland Network, who did not submit any information to the EPA, issued a statement to the Leitrim Observer outlining their issues with the press release from the EPA calling for submissions and the intent of the proposed terms of reference.
In relation to the ‘need for detailed scientific information’ in this area, the anti fracking group said “publication of peer reviewed scientific information on the impacts of fracking lags way behind the vast amount of anecdotal evidence on this subject coming from communities worldwide. This body of anecdotal evidence, already supported by some extant peer reviewed scientific studies, indicates that Fracking is a fundamentally flawed process. It threatens the health and sustainability of communities. We take the evidence being made available by such communities extremely seriously. Hence we have been campaigning for a ban on the process of Hydraulic Fracturing on the Island of Ireland for nearly two years.” The group believes the present government “fully intends to facilitate the development of a fracking industry in Ireland.” They also believe that the public consultation process on the EPA draft terms of reference for research in this area was “a cynical exercise intended to put a veneer of community consultation on a fundamentally anti-democratic process. This process is intended to open up large areas of the island of Ireland to exploitation by an extremely controversial industry.”
According to the group, the structure of the research proposed by the EPA does not propose to address fundamental community concerns in the area of health in any sustained way. “Another basic flaw in the proposed framework for research is the stated intent of its serving to ‘assist regulators (North and South) in fulfilling their statutory roles regarding this activity’. This is a clear prima facie statement that the intent of this programme of research is the development of a framework to regulate this industry. It is not a comprehensive evaluation of whether it is advisable to allow the development of a fracking industry on the island of Ireland.” These members of No Fracking Ireland believe the government are ignoring calls from the public to ban fracking. “There have been no consultations whatsoever directly between the government and communities in the firing line with regard to fracking to date. This is despite the significant number of local councils which have voted to ban the practice,” they say. In relation to the draft terms of reference document the groups says, the putting in place of ‘baseline monitoring systems’ to monitor water quality and seismic activity “has no discernible purpose unless fracking is to go ahead in the areas where these monitoring systems are to be developed and deployed.” The group says “This proposed outline does not map a path for researchers to review and identify the risks of fracking with regard to water quality and potential impacts on human health.”
“Despite the patina of concern for the environment visible in this draft terms of reference document – it does not even attempt to outline a framework for research for a thorough evaluation of the environmental and health risks presented by exploratory or industrial fracking. In fact, such concerns are completely marginalised by the document and the framework for research it proposes. Instead, it clearly and consistently focuses on the development of a best practice framework for fracking and its regulation,” the No Fracking Ireland group claim.
During the last government an extensive review of the EPA was commissioned by the Department of the Environment. The report produced 58 recommendations to improve the agency’s structure and operation. At present the EPA has absolute immunity from prosecution for failure to discharge its statutory functions. The review found this to be no longer acceptable stating that ‘the EPA’s current blanket statutory immunity when carrying out its functions is difficult to justify in a modern context’. No Fracking Ireland Network believe these serious issues must also be addressed and rectified before the community could consider engaging in any meaningful consultation with the agency. “What the EPA is in effect facilitating is the State giving birth to an industry that may place established industries in tourism and agriculture at risk, place public health at risk, and unleash environmental destruction – all in pursuit of a fast buck. The precautionary principle should apply. “Rather than participate in a process intended to lay the foundations for fracking in Ireland, we have continued and will continue to work to give public representation to the views of the thousands who have called for a ban on the process of fracking on the island of Ireland.” [Emphasis added]