Quakers explore the environmental issues associated with fracking

Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Ireland have been exploring the environmental issues associated with fracking. Eco-Congregation Ireland’s Quaker rep, Gillian Armstrong, has written this report:

The Quaker environmental committee, known as Eco Quakers Ireland, have recently organised two information sessions entitled ‘Fracking – a Quaker concern ?’. These were held in Belfast on 22nd November and Dublin on 23rd November.

Eco Quakers have become aware that fracking (hydraulic fracturing of shale rock) is likely to become a huge environmental concern in coming years on the island of Ireland. It is already a very live issue in the border areas of Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo and Cavan, and some dramatic incidents took place near the border village of Belcoo in the summer of 2014, in connection with an attempt at some exploratory drilling by a company called Tamboran.

The seriousness of the situation in this area has been highlighted by many local groups, and they are supported in this by a group of local Quakers, whose concern has been taken seriously by Quakers in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. The purpose of the two meetings in Belfast and Dublin was to raise awareness of the issues and at both meetings a group of knowledgeable speakers conveyed a great deal of wide-ranging information.

Fracking involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down and across into horizontally drilled wells, which can descend as deep as 2 – 3 km below the earth’s surface. This pressurised mixture causes the shale to crack and the natural gas from the shale then flows up to the surface. The waste water is stored in open pits. This unconventional method of gas extraction has become widespread in the USA, but is subject to grave reservations on health and safety grounds due to contamination through chemicals and spillages and concern at the huge volumes of water needed. The landscape becomes highly industrialised with concreted frack pads of 7 – 9 acres around each well, noise and light pollution, and heavy vehicle traffic day and night. If Tamboran Resources were to get the go-ahead, they plan for 60 frack pads in both Fermanagh and Leitrim.

To anyone who knows the beautiful farming and lakeland scenery of these counties, this is a nightmare scenario. The Northern Ireland government awarded an exploration licence to Tamboran Resources, but this was affected by the events of summer 2014 and is now subject to judicial review. The Irish Government has deferred a decision pending a research study by the Environmental Protection Agency. But the people living in these areas fear that the power of a company such as Tamboran may prevail in the end, and that their best hope is to raise the profile of their anxieties by every means possible.

There were five speakers in all at the two meetings, three at each meeting. They were Lynn Benson, who has a scientific and veterinary background; Tanya Jones who is a lawyer and Green Party candidate; Robert Foulkes, an engineer who is currently establishing a field research station in Co Fermanagh; Michael Brown, who works on environmental and social issues and runs a media company; and Carroll O’Dolan, a doctor and dedicated campaigner on environmental health issues. Lynn, Tanya, Michael and Carroll all live in Fermanagh.

DSCF8666The topics highlighted and discussed at the two meetings were really wide-ranging.

Lynn’s main message was to beware of what you are told and what you believe – the true information tends to be buried deep. She feels that, through the Belcoo campaign, she has learnt to reflect on what is truly of value in life, and to set her priorities by that.

Tanya brought out the lack of legislation concerning fracking, difficulties in obtaining compensation in cases of accidents or ill-health, and the threat to agriculture, fishing and tourism, all essential to these rural communities.

Robert spoke about the huge quantities of sand and water needed and the resultant transport damage to roads and infrastructure. Disposal of waste products is a huge problem and the very deep wells are vulnerable to cracks and leakage. Because of the limestone rock of this region, it is often impossible to know what is the actual course of rivers and streams.

Carroll’s main concerns were health issues, given that there are now many studies of suspected fracking-related illnesses in Canada and the USA. These stem from air and water pollution and include breathing difficulties, heart problems, skin conditions, birth abnormalities and psychological illnesses as a result of a stressful environment.

Michael told us about making the DVD ‘Fracking in Fermanagh’ and the input from local residents and schoolchildren. So many people worldwide have been exploited by multi-national companies, and now this looks like coming to our own backyard. He also highlighted the danger of contamination to the milk industry, especially given the high reputation Ireland enjoys as a producer and world-wide exporter of baby formula and powdered milk.

The audience attending these events was very much engaged by the information given by the speakers, and a lively question-and-answer session followed on both occasions.

The over-riding concern of the panel of speakers is that fracking can only be a short-term solution, serving merely to prolong Ireland’s emissions of CO2 (and methane, which is even more harmful) and leaving damaged and contaminated farmland and lakes as a horrible legacy. If the two Governments agree to take this course of action, it will only deflect financial resources from the development of renewable sources of clean energy and delay Ireland’s progress towards a major reduction in carbon emissions. To regard shale gas as a ‘transition fuel’ is to subscribe to an enormous ‘red-herring’ – of course we need energy, but not at any price!

Some useful links:

Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network (FFAN) -www.frackaware.com

To view the DVD 'Fracking in Fermanagh' - http://vimeo.com/67627781. Or go to www.developmentmediaworkshop.org and scroll down to Videos.

To read Tanya Jones' script given at the Belfast meeting - www.greenlassie.com - and scroll down through her blog to 22nd November.

Additional information - www.frackingfreeireland.org http://vimeo.com/67627781