Meeting on cross-border links

A meeting is being held this Saturday, 4th February in Enniskillen, to explore ways in which campaigning  groups on this issue from across Ireland might co-ordinate, sharing ideas and support.   Those interested are invited to meet outside the Town Hall at 1pm, and the formal meeting will begin at 3pm in the Clinton Centre.  This event is not organised by the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network but FFAN is very pleased to note the growing public understanding of shale gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing which it represents.  The potential risks of the process to our health, environment and economies know no boundaries, and it is in all of our interests for the people of Ireland, the UK, Europe and the world to share developing research and experience.

Farmers express fracking fears

Our recent Fracking awareness meetings in Florencecourt and Cashel have been well attended by local people including many from the farming community. There was also a good turnout of fishermen at the Cashel meeting.

Farmers were particularly concerned about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the local agri-food industry. These small businesses are dependent on quality production to maintain their position in this niche market.   The slightest suggestion of contamination of beef or milk could mean financial ruin.  Speaking after the meeting Dr Carroll O’Dolan, spokesperson for FFAN, noted that where the farming community are struggling to survive in the current economic climate “even the perception of contamination could destroy the local agri-food industry”. At the end of the Cashel meeting committee members of the Garrison-Lough Melvin Anglers Association spoke of their concerns about fracking and its impact on the fishing on the famous waters of Lough Melvin.

 

Farmers who had diversified into tourism were equally anxious.  They spoke of huge personal and public investments in Fermanagh’s tourism industry.  This investment has created a brand recognised both nationally and internationally – ‘Fermanagh welcomes you naturally’.  But will tourists still want to come here if Fermanagh loses its green and clean image to become one of concrete, heavy industry and heavy traffic? If there is a long term risk of water contamination and/or toxic chemicals getting into the food chain how will our fishing and Lakelands fare?  There is a real concern that secure jobs in Fermanagh’s tourism industry could be under threat if ‘fracking’ is allowed to go ahead to be replaced by short term “potential” jobs.

Looking ahead, many were concerned about what happens when the extraction process is over.  “Industrialised land” covered with concrete and contaminated with chemicals both above & below ground, cannot be farmed; indeed the landowners may find themselves responsible for difficult and expensive clean-up operations.

Other farmers were downright angry; if they are strictly regulated and penalised if they deviate from DARD & DOE regulations, then why were four exploration licenses for shale gas and oil extraction issued in Northern Ireland with very little consideration as to the impacts on health, the environment, the rural way of life and no public consultation?

Fracking for unconventional gas and oil is a relatively new technology which is causing much controversy around the world and has been banned or put on hold in many regions.  It is significantly different from fracking for conventional gas & oil reserves, which has been used for the last sixty years. The British Geological Survey has concluded that fracking was the likely cause of the recent earthquakes near Blackpool, and that these earthquakes were between 10-100 times stronger than the usual low-level seismic activity that can normally occur in that area. A recent poll in the Guardian newspaper showed that 68.3% of respondents were opposed to fracking in the UK.

Closing the meeting in Florencecourt Dr O’Dolan said “We don’t know the long term impact that fracking will have on our health and the environment thus the precautionary principle should apply. The Governments should wait for the outcome of the very detailed studies being carried out in the USA & Europe, and both due for release in 2014. The ‘Sure we’ll see how it goes, if it turns out bad we’ll stop’ attitude is too dangerous.”

Public meeting – Derrygonnelly

The next Fermanagh Fracking Awareness ‘Frack Aware’ public meeting  will be held in the Tir Navar Centre in Derrygonnelly on Tuesday 29th November at 8.00pm.  The meeting will include a presentation, with full details of the pros and cons of the shale gas extraction proposals, together with time for questions and discussion.  As always, all are very welcome.

Public meeting – Belfast

The celebrated film Gasland will be shown on Tuesday, October 18 from 6:00pm – 9:00pm at Queen’s University Belfast,   Room 0G/007, Peter Frogatt Centre (PFC).  The showing will be followed by a talk by guest speaker Tom Hyde.

GASLAND is an award-winning independent documentary exposing the perilous effects of natural gas drilling on communities in America.
The film has been called a ‘horror movie and wake up call’ to the increasingly pervasive process of energy extraction called Hydraulic Fracturing or, as it’s commonly known, ‘fracking.’ Fracking pumps water at high velocity into the ground with a mixture of chemicals, some of which are harmful to the environment, to extract gas from below. The film highlights communities who, lured by the promise of profit, are now experiencing the consequences of hydraulic fracturing – including the loss of potable ground water, flammable taps, environmental degradation and being perpetually beholden to the plans of the energy companies.

This event has been organised by a group of concerned students to raise awareness of the hydraulic fracturing operations planned for large areas across North and South of Ireland, in counties ranging from Fermanagh and Antrim to Roscommon and Leitrim.

The guest speaker is Tom Hyde who has been an active campaigner on this subject. He will be able to answer any questions the audience has after the showing of GASLAND.

GASLAND was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2011 and won the Sundance Festival Special Jury Prize for Best US Documentary in 2010, among other awards.

Click here to go to the Facebook page for this event.

 

Public meeting – Ballyshannon

A public meeting will be held on Monday 17th October at 8pm at the Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon.  The main speaker at the meeting will be Dr. Aedin McLoughlin who will give a presentation about hydraulic fracturing and its implications for health, agriculture, tourism, water & air quality, jobs etc.  Other speakers will also give their perspectives followed by a question and answer session.  All are very welcome, “especially from Fermanagh”.

Enniskillen meeting report

 There were people standing around the edges of the room, in the hallway and spilling out into the car park for Dr Aedin McLoughlin’s presentation at the Clinton Centre on Wednesday 28th September. Dr McLoughlin presented the case for and against shale gas extraction, covering issues including health, quality of life and the effects on the local economy. The aim of the evening was to share information in order to help Fermanagh residents to make an informed decision as whether this gas extraction is welcome in their county. Mr Tom Noble, former Principal of the Erne Integrated College, very ably chaired the meeting, allowing those in attendance to ask questions and share concerns. He ensured that opinions both for and against the process were aired in a respectful manner. Dr Carroll O’Dolan of Florencecourt and Marius Leonard of the Corralea Activity Centre were also on the panel to answer queries.

Some local elected representatives were in the audience and they were called upon by others to “get off the fence” and make their position on the controversial fracking process known. Some were ready to state their views while others said that they would make up their minds when they felt they had all the necessary facts. This was welcomed by other residents, although the urgency of the issue was also emphasised.

The farming community raised issues particularly relevant to them. While leasing their land to the gas exploration companies may seem a lucrative opportunity for farmers, some expressed concerns about the potentially lethal waste that would be left behind and their ultimate responsibility for clearing it. It was also noted with anxiety that the chemical benzene, a petroleum product  found in the flowback fluid coming up from the shale layer, could have a disastrous effect on the local agri-food industry if a leakage occurred. There was also much concern about the fact that planning permission was not required for the laying of gas pipes and that they could be run through any property without the owners’ permission.

Some of the landowners in attendance were very angry that any gas which might be extracted would almost certainly be exported and that very little if any would be used locally, meaning that the local economy would not benefit from lower fuel prices.

Dr O’Dolan was very concerned about the health implications of the process. The precise effects on human and animal health are very difficult to quantify, given that baseline studies are not generally carried out prior to exploration, but it has certainly not been shown that the procedure is safe for people, livestock or wildlife. He suggested we should wait until technology developed further and potential risks were mimimised. After all the gas, if left in the shale layer, is not going anywhere!

The audience was reminded that this process continues to be extremely controversial worldwide, that it is banned in many countries and states, and that pending law suits and protests are ongoing in countries such as the US and Australia where its use is more widespread. In England shale gas extraction has also caused much controversy with recent small earthquakes in Lancashire having been associated with the fracking process in the area. If this were to happen in Fermanagh, people were left to imagine, for example, the impact on the Marble Arch Caves, one of the county’s most important tourist attractions.

The meeting ended with the chairperson reminding those in attendance that the organisers – Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network – were not asking people to say a blanket “no” to shale gas extraction; rather, that they should become informed about the process before they say “yes”.

Further information meetings will be held in Newtownbutler on 4th October and Florencecourt on 26th October. Meetings are also being planned for Derrygonnelly, Garrison and Belleek.