Hundreds of environmental activists took part in the first national meeting in Ireland against efforts by multinational energy companies to extract gas by using high-powered jets of water to fracture the earth’s crust, a process known as ‘fracking’.
The recently developed process is intended to release small pockets of natural gas, but can also cause minor earthquakes and other unwanted side effects.
Fracking has been suspended in France, South Africa, Germany, parts of Australia and a number of US states pending more detailed investigations.
One company, Tamboran, is at the vanguard of an exploration wave in Ireland that has so far been focused in Leitrim and Fermanagh, but has also seen exploratory work in Roscommon, Cavan, Sligo, Clare, Kerry, Limerick, and Cork.
Hundreds of people attended an event in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh last Saturday to protest over plans to use the method in Ireland. Environmental groups joined together to co-ordinate their efforts in opposition to the mining companies.
Leah Doherty of ‘No Fracking Ireland’ said figures claimed by Tamboran for 3,000 jobs and 40 years of gas were part of a propaganda campaign seeking to take advantage of people’s financial concerns.
“This is how they sell it to win over public opinion, by dangling jobs in front of people at a time when they are needed,” she said.
She said international experience was that these jobs would not materialise and those that did would involve many international skilled workers.
On Saturday, protesters in the North-West were joined by members of the Clare lobby group, which convinced councillors to block attempts to develop on the studies underway in Doonbeg.
The Clare project is the first option granted in a exploration basin stretching from Meelin, North Cork across to northern Kerry and west Clare.
Susan Griffin, of Clare Fracking Concerned, said there are fears that the Dublin government has already sided with the exploration companies and take a dim view on councillors who vote to hinder the prospect of future licences.
In the documentary Gasland, which deals with the proliferation of fracking wells in the US over the past decade, has helped to turn public opinion against the process.
The most notorious scenes in Josh Fox’s award-winning film show householders in Pennsylvania flaring gas from their kitchen taps, even while the water was running, because ‘fracked’ wells nearby had leached into the water table.
In many places, water supplies have become undrinkable, contaminated by a wide variety of chemicals used in the operations. Such exploration and drilling was exempted from environmental and health regulations in 2005, at the instigation of US vice-president Dick Cheney, leaving people powerless to challenge the companies involved.
Sinn Fein Assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Phil Flanagan was at the protest on Saturday. He said the demonstrators sent a clear message that they were “firmly opposed to the plans to allow fracking to take place”.
“We all know the massive environmental damage that fracking has caused around the world and we are here to let Tamboran and the relevant government ministers know that they will not ride roughshod over the wishes of the local community and that we are prepared to stand up for our rights,” he said.
Republican Sinn Fein’s Geraldine Taylor said fracking should be firmly opposed by local people in Leitrim and Fermanagh.
“The promise of jobs in our present economic climate should not be put before health and safety, and profit should not be put before people,” she said.