The Environmental Pillar is concerned that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated could force Ireland to permit fracking against the will of the Irish people.
The trade deal, as currently envisaged, would allow for companies banned from fracking in Ireland to take legal action against the country under an onerous new mechanism which would allow companies to sue states.
The Environmental Pillar, which is a coalition of 27 Irish environmental NGOs, is calling on Ireland’s newly elected MEPs to oppose any trade deal which will put the profit of private companies ahead of the interests of Irish citizens.
The TTIP agreement could see Ireland’s ban on fracking challenged by multinational energy companies in special courts as part of an Investor-State Dispute mechanism (ISDS).
The possible outcomes being Irish taxpayers being forced to pay millions in damages or the government being forced to allow fracking go ahead.
Under a similar agreement, the Canadian government was hit with a $250 million lawsuit from US oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources last year.
This came after Quebec temporarily banned fracking in the St Lawrence river basin. The province said they needed time to assess the impact of fracking on the area.
It is proposed that TTIP will include an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS). This will allow investors to bypass national courts and challenge governments for introducing regulations that in business’ view harms their interests or imposes extra costs due to increased regulation.
‘This new US/EU trade deal could open the door to fracking in Ireland,’ said Oisín Coghlan Environmental Pillar spokesperson.
‘Fracking is the process of breaking rock deep within the earth to extract natural gas. It has been blamed for numerous environmental, safety, and health problems – most notably the contamination of drinking water.
‘No town or village in Ireland would want this in their area but because of a deal struck behind closed doors in Brussels it could happen.
He added: ‘We oppose any trade deal which puts the profit of multinational companies above the will of the Irish people.
‘While the possible implications for Ireland could be huge there is very little public knowledge of this deal. It is currently being negotiated by the European Commission behind closed doors.
‘Trade deals are not in themselves a bad thing but any deal which allows companies to sue states outside of national courts for damaging their profits has to be questioned.
‘It not only raises the issues of fracking but a number of other issues surrounding intensification of food and biomass production, the privatisation of healthcare, and the control of dangerous chemicals in food and the environment.’
A moratorium on fracking is currently in place in Ireland until the completion of a scientific survey by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The government have said they will not make a decision on whether to permit fracking until they have time to consider the study, which is due to be completed in late 2016.
However, test drilling is currently taking place in Northern Ireland and recently there have been efforts in the UK to make fracking licences easier to obtain.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling vertically, then horizontally, into shale rock to obtain methane or natural gas.
Water, chemicals and sand are blasted into the drilled wells, creating cracks in the adjacent rock and releasing the gases into the well.
The process requires dozens of chemicals to reduce heat and to prevent drill bits clogging. It has been criticised for having potential to contaminate groundwater and to induce movement underground.
An examination of the health aspects of fracking, published earlier this year by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), highlights a dearth of scientific studies.
In Pennsylvania USA, where the practice is common health practitioners say that the most common symptoms that residents blame on fracking are coughing, shortness of breath and worsening asthma.
On Saturday July 12th a public meeting will be held to inform the public about TTIP. ‘What’s TTIP’ will feature four speakers on the trade deal: John Gibbons, environmental campaigner and founder of climatechange.ie, Paul Murphy former MEP, Barry Finnegan ATTAC Ireland and Griffith College lecturer and Conor McCabe, Research Fellow in UCD School of Social Justice. It will be held in the Greenhouse, 17 17 St. Andrew Street, Dublin 2, from 11am to 1pm.
Please follow the links to find out more about TTIP and fracking:
Environmental Pillar policy on fracking
Friends of the Earth webpage on fracking
European Commisson office in Ireland webpage on TTIP
The Greens/Eurpean Free Alliance website on TTIP