Response to Aaron McKenna’s column in The Journal.ie (23rd March 2013)
Mr McKenna was obviously briefed on fracking by the US oil/gas industry when he wrote this article as he quotes their propaganda extensively and when it comes to Ireland, has done little research himself. The article is a deliberate attempt to get us to assume that fracking is inevitable, good for us economically and that shale gas is the clean fuel of the future. We completely refute those assumptions.
Some important points:
- Shale gas is Methane, which has a global warming effect 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Whereas methane when burned is a cleaner fuel than oil or coal, fugitive emissions from fracking and gas transport systems are serious problems. Howarth et al (2011) calculate that during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane, resulting in a greenhouse gas footprint more than that of coal over a 20 year period.
- No fossil fuel is a “clean fuel”. This is industry hype. All fossil fuels contribute to global warming and shale gas is no exception.
- The statement that “People living on top of shale gas reserves can win big” is not true in Ireland. Unlike the US, Irish landowners do not own the mineral or gas rights under their land and will not be entitled to royalties or massive leases. Any leases will be only for a few short years and the landowners will then be left with unusable land for which they will be responsible. The only real winners are the oil/gas companies. The gas would be sold into the international market and the Government would get the second lowest royalties in the world from declared profits.
- The preliminary EPA report on fracking said in its summary that ” there is a low and probably manageable risk to ground water from fracking …” This referred to the hydraulic fracturing stage of shale gas extraction, not to its life cycle, which includes land preparation, drilling, wastewater disposal, and gas treatment and transportation. In addition, this conclusion was based on a report from Texas which has been subsequently discredited.
- European shale gas could not be sold cheaply. The price of gas in the US has more to do with a glut of gas than the cost of production, which is actually 4 times its retail cost. The cost of establishing a shale gas industry in Ireland would be huge and imposed “improved” regulations would also add costs to production. Examination of models produced by Tamboran indicate that strict regulations could drive the price up to €16 per mBTU.
- The whole US industry is a bubble scenario very much on the same lines as the sub-prime property bubble that has been shown to be totally unsustainable. Why would we have a repetition of the same system that already has had such disastrous consequences for our people and economy?Irish Exploration Licences come with the guarantee to allow exploitation of commercially viable reserves. We should not go ahead with Exploration while the process has so many unknowns associated with it, in particular its impact on human and animal health. Our agri-food and tourism sectors are far too valuable to be put at risk. Better wait until independent peer-reviewed studies show that shale gas can be extracted without risk to the environment, people’s health or the national economy and then see if the burning of this valuable resource is the best use we can make of it.
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
Ireland has a unique situation on the edge of Europe, with the potential for development of a carbon-neutral society by 2050, as proposed by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). 
“To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 we must act now to create:
- An energy system built on wind and other renewables, using a smart grid and integrated into a clean EU energy system;
- An energy-efficient society that uses renewable forms of energy for heating;
- A sustainable transport system which serves economic, societal and environmental needs;
- A world-class agri-food sector working within a carbon-neutral system of agriculture, forestry and land use; and
- An approach to resource management that provides a competitive and comparative advantage in international trade and factor flows.”