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Why Fracking Ireland Is Different

Ireland is in many ways the perfect country to nurture and grow a sustainable, green energy fueled society, we have all the natural resources needed, the only problem is we don't have the political will or vision to allow it.
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Whether you are pro- or anti-fracking, consider that some places on the planet may be worse places than others to use the new technology to extract natural gas.

The debate about this controversial topic is really heating up in Ireland now -- a place where activists say it would be particularly dangerous to drill as it is full of aquifers. I interviewed Leah Doherty of No Fracking Ireland to better understand what people are worried about on the Emerald Isle.

Why is fracking Ireland different than fracking other places?

As the journalist Greg Palast noted when visiting Ireland last year, "fracking here would be insane, Ireland is like one big flood plain, there is water everywhere." The River Shannon is one of the biggest rivers in Europe and flows like a vein right down through the country. It is in counties all along the Shannon basin region that fracking is being proposed. Our landscape is dotted with lakes and rivers thoughout this region and nationally important aquifers that supply drinking water to the communities in these areas.

In areas here zoned for fracking there are underground water systems that geologists are only beginning to explore. We still have no idea how or in which direction this maze of underground water flows and connects. Also because of water shortages, for the first time in history the metropolitan area of Dublin is seeking to extract water from this region to supply the growing demand for domestic water there. Many of the most important acquifers in this region are very shallow and there would be an extremely high risk of pollution from any heavy industrial activity, never mind fracking. Here in Ireland there are laws forbidding people to even build houses near important aquifers, so the idea that fracking could take place anywhere near our underground water systems is crazy.

Ireland is like a diamond in the rough when it comes to its position in Europe. Unlike many other European countries, we are still a very unspoiled, rural country with very little industrial areas, outside of main urban areas. Because we have very few big industries, the quality of our waterways, air and land are exceptionally good, relatively speaking and because of this our amazing diverse landscapes also remain relatively unspoilt, which is something that we are very proud of. We are internationally known for the excellent quality of our meat and dairy products, in a world of ever increasing industrial landscapes our tourism industry is growing because of our unspoilt environment and we are in an excellent position because of our climate and geographical location to begin harnessing renewable and sustainable energy sources such as biomass, solar, wave and wind.

Ireland is in many ways the perfect country to nurture and grow a sustainable, green energy fueled society, we have all the natural resources needed, the only problem is we don't have the political will or vision to allow it.

Do you believe the people have the political will to block it?

The people of Ireland have always had an extremely close relationship to their land and their natural surroundings. Unfortunately it has been very difficult to inform the wider public about this issue, the mainstream media have done little or no investigative reporting on this industry. When fracking is reported in Ireland, through our national media we are fed an extremely biased, pro-industry view, but only those of us who have done the research can see that.

It has been left up to a few community groups to try and inform a whole nation about the issue. For example the biggest farming union in the country the Irish Farmers Association, which has strong ties to the political establishment, have stand not informed their members about the associated risks of fracking to the farming industry. This is scandalous in my view and it is because of these types of cozy relationships between big organizations and government that people are being kept in the dark.

Having said all that we have had major success on a local level, in various counties throughout the island. As a campaign both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, we now have many politicians from across the political divide in complete agreement with us that fracking should be banned. There are areas of 13 counties out of 32 on the island north and south, that have been zoned for fracking, out of the 13 zoned for fracking, five of the County Councils have either called for a moratorium or ban on fracking.

In our view for a campaign that only started three years ago that is a major success so far and speaks volumes about the anti-fracking feeling on the ground in those areas. The problem is getting those people who are against fracking to actually understand that they need from time to time help out in the campaign and realise that at certain times their presence is needed on the ground to show our political leaders that we exist, we are growing and we will not stand back and allow this industry on to our land.

The situation is also politically more complicated here than elsewhere because we have Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are seeing solidarity between communities from both nationalist and unionist backgrounds coming together in Northern Ireland to fight against fracking. Given the horrific violent past in Northern Ireland this solidarity between both communities is fantastic to witness and is continuing to grow despite the Minister Arlene Foster, who is in charge of this issue, trying to divide our campaign on sectarian grounds. The people of Northern Ireland are not buying into this and as each day passes we are witnessing people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland realizing this issue has nothing to do with your political or religious beliefs, it has to do with the health of our children for generations to come.

I firmly believe that if and when the time comes the people of this island will stand together and do everything they can to keep our island frack free.

Is it true that landowners do not own their mineral rights? So a farmer with 100 acres will potentially see no personal profit should his land be fracked?

In Ireland and the U.K. the state owns our underground minerals, so any benefit to a farmer or landowner will be minimal compared to the U.S. But at the end of the day no amount of money should lure any landowner, who understands the situation and respects their environment, to hand their land over to the fracking industry.

How many people are in the anti-fracking movement? How many groups? Can you name the groups?

There are approximately 20 working groups in the anti-fracking movement in Ireland. Some of these are environmental groups that do not solely focus on fracking but the majority are primarily anti-fracking groups.

It is hard to say how many people are actually in the anti-fracking movement in Ireland. But at this stage of our campaign it is safe to say that there are thousand throughout the island actively involved in campaigning for a ban on fracking.

An example of some of the groups involved are No Fracking Northern Ireland, Fracking Free Clare, Love Leitrim, Friends of the Earth Belfast/Dublin, Britain and Ireland Frack Free, Northwest Network Against Fracking, No Fracking Dublin, Ban Fracking Fermanagh, Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network.

Many of these groups work on a local level, the network I am involved in (No Fracking Ireland) works at a national, international and cross-border (with Northern Ireland) level.

The Irish government has stated that they are waiting for our Irish EPA to finalize their research before they make their decision on fracking. The EPA report is due out next year, however exploration drilling is not ruled out.

The company leading the EPA research have worked closely with the industry and have publicly endorsed "fracking". This company being described by the EPA as the 'leaders' of this research is quite frankly a joke and a blatant situation of "conflict of interest." Other bodies/companies involved in the research also have vested interests or a conflict of interest in being involved in this research work. Until such time as these bodies/companies are removed from the EPA's research "consortium", this research even before it is finalized cannot be described as being conducted in an "independent" fashion and cannot or will not be accepted as such.

The research is being carried out by a consortium, led by the global environmental and infrastructure management firm CDM Smith Ireland Limited. The consortium includes Queens University Belfast, British Geological Survey, University College Dublin, University of Ulster, AMEC, and Philip Lee Solicitors.

Our network's stance on this last point regarding EPA research is that we believe we already have more than enough evidence, including peer-reviewed research, to use the precautionary principle and ban fracking now.

We urge people to come out to demonstrations in Belfast and Dublin on October 11, which is Global Frackdown Day.