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What the Frack is That?

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In Focus94 Rory Fogarty discussed Fracking; the controversial extraction process that meets local protests across the world.

Exploratory fracking contracts have been awarded in Fermanagh, as the UK government pursues a pro-fracking economic policy, are protests worldwide the sign of things to come for Ireland?

Hydraulic fracturing is the extraction of natural gas from shale rock by injecting a mixture of water, oils, sand and chemicals into the earth. The process is under intense scrutiny internationally.

Earlier this May, a confrontation between 700 police officers and up to 5,000 protesters was averted following the suspension of oil company Metgasco’s exploratory fracking license in New South Wales, pending investigation of corruption charges.

In Balcombe in the UK last August, 2 months of protest blockades resulted in oil company Cuadrilla suspending operations.These protests at heart were over fear of air and water contamination, the loss of livelihood and the scarring of landscapes. There is evidence, albeit disputed, that show it as devastating to the environment and local inhabitants. The US Environmental Protection Agency has investigated hundreds of complaints dealing with water contamination, noxious gases, headaches and even cancers. Their initial report found a link with well contamination and the waste water returning to the surface, as well as health hazards, but these findings remain not definitively verified.

Conversely members of the UK government and lobbyists advocate fracking as an essential piece of economic recovery. They point to reviews by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering which suggest fracking is entirely safe providing strong regulation is implemented.

However contested, these findings form the context for resistance internationally. In Northern Ireland, an exploratory fracking contract granted to Australian mining company Tambornan sparked outrage from both sides of the Fermanagh-Leitrim border.

After 1,000-strong demonstrations, road-blocks and legal cases, local politicians proposed a referendum on the issue be held. Also, sitting Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill committed to blocking any fracking activities on land under her department’s control, with local MLA Phil Flanagan stating that “Fracking poses a very real risk to the success of our farming industry, which is vital in counties like Fermanagh and Leitrim.”

In the Republic, fears have been expressed on contamination of the Shannon from extraction in Fermanagh, which would affect thousands of landowners along its banks and thousands who rely on it for water supply. Tommy Earley, Chairman of Leitrim Organic Farmers, stated that if fracking went ahead “you couldn’t guarantee the quality of your meat, and in other parts of the world, farmers have been told that if your produce comes from an area that is fracked – we don’t want it anymore”

When asked if there were any circumstances in which fracking would be acceptable, Eric Burke of No Fracking Dublin stated that “there is a growing body of evidence which outlines the extremely deleterious effect of hydraulic fracturing. It is an attack on our security…It is an attack on our basic human rights. That is never acceptable.”



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