The results of an EU on-line questionnaire on fracking were presented at a meeting on 7th June in Brussels, attended by Irish representatives of the campaign against fracking. Almost 23,000 people responded to the questionnaire, a large majority of which agree on the lack of adequate legislation, the need for public information and the lack of public acceptance of unconventional fossil fuels (e.g. shale gas). When the responses were weighted to reflect EU Member States’ population, they indicated that 64% of EU citizens thought that shale gas should not be developed in Europe at all.
Following presentation of the results, a broadly-based discussion of the environmental impacts of fracking took place. The health impacts of fracking and the importance of applying the precautionary principle to proposals to frack were emphasised by the Irish representatives which included Dr Geralyn McCarron (Fermanagh), Geraldine Ring (Cork) and Dr Aedin McLoughlin (Leitrim).
[Image: Geralyn and Aedín with FOE outside Commission building]
Dr McCarron spoke about the impacts of contamination from fracking on a rural community she has studied in Australia. “There was a range of symptoms related to neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system), including severe fatigue, weakness, headaches, numbness and paraesthesia (pins and needles. Almost all the children suffered from headaches and for over half of these the headaches were severe. Other symptoms reported among the population included increases in cough, chest tightness, rashes, difficulty sleeping, joint pains, muscle pains and spasms, nausea and vomiting.”
Dr McCarron said that Health Impact Assessments, carried out with internationally recognised protocols, must be an integral part of every unconventional gas development proposal.
Aedín McLoughlin from GEAI pointed out that throughout Europe, proposals for exploration included drilling and fracking in border areas (e.g. Leitrim/Fermanagh. “Such exploration must not proceed without a common policy and regulatory framework between the two jurisdictions involved. Water knows no borders and the areas targeted include the two major waterways of the Shannon and Erne Rivers.”
She also stressed the importance of the precautionary principle and how it must be applied: Proposals for on-shore unconventional gas exploration to be considered new plans or programmes by EU Member States and Strategic Environmental Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals as per SEA Directive 2001; Health Impact Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals; and Environmental Impact Studies to be carried out on all stages of fracking, to include studies of the cumulative impacts of such developments. “Finally, we consider that a Moratoriumon unconventional gas exploration or extraction must be implemented in each Member State until such studies show that environmental degradation or adverse public health impacts will not result from such projects,” she concluded.
Geraldine Ring questioned the Commission’s proposal to develop a risk management framework. “Fracking carries with it risks, but also realities. One of these realities is the huge volume of flowback water and we know from the US, Canada and Australia that there is no best practice to treat it.” She asked how the Commission planned to deal with such realities.
She also referred to the gaps that have been already identified by the Commission in existing Directives. “The current EU regulatory framework at both exploration and production phase has a number of gaps or potential gaps,” she said. “A study published by the Commission in September of last year showed gaps in at least eight key environmental acquis, including the Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directive, the Mining Waste Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment directive which is currently under review.”
Aedín also visited the EU Parliament and had a discussion about the meeting with MEP Marian Harkin’s staff. Marian Harkin kindly sponsored her travel costs.
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