Dáil Diary no 45 – 19 June 2015
Climate Change- Government devoid of Long Term Vision...
Climate Change is one of the biggest problems facing the world today, but trying to get Governments to take it seriously is more than difficult. Sadly, when it is deemed to be not immediate, perceived to cost too much money to honestly address the challenges, politicians tend to bury their heads in the sand – and hope it goes away. Or at least hope that it doesn’t affect them before the next election. This week, I had two questions on the issue with Minister for Energy Alex White, and here are some extracts from the debate. -
“CDM Smith, a company that has led the fracking industry into Poland and Ukraine, is leading the EPA's research project on fracking. It is a little worrying that such a company would be given the job. The company's official line on natural gas is that "It is an abundant, reliable, clean and cost-effective fuel source." Surely, someone else should examine the matter?
Deputy Alex White: I thank the Deputy for his question which relates to a motion passed by Leitrim County Council. While I have received communication from the county council, as outlined in the Deputy's question, I would comment as follows on the appointment of CDM Smith and the involvement of that company in the multi-agency trans-boundary programme of research commissioned by the EPA on the potential impacts on the environment and human health of unconventional gas exploration and extraction projects.
The programme is managed by the EPA and co-funded by the EPA, my Department and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, with oversight from a broad-based steering committee that includes my Department.
I am aware that there has been some recent focus on the fact that CDM Smith has provided expert advice to oil companies involved in the development of unconventional gas resources. CDM Smith has also provided advice to State bodies and regulatory agencies across its area of expertise. As the Deputy will appreciate, it is common that a broad range of parties will seek to draw on the specialist expertise available from a firm such as CDM Smith. The fact that disparate entities seek to draw on such expertise is generally seen as an indicator of a company's recognised experience.
Mick Wallace: Although I do not doubt CDM Smith's experience in the area and I understand why people would garner some information from it my point remains the same. The company is involved seriously at the coalface of fracking and would almost promote it. Recently, New York State changed its fracking moratorium into a full ban based on its department of health's review of the latest evidence. CDM Smith's response to this effort by state legislators to protect their drinking water, clean air, the global climate and the public health of their communities was one of condemnation. These people have a vested interest in telling us fracking is good for us. The Minister does not need to have fracking researched. There is enough research to prove to most ordinary people that fracking is bad for our health. A couple of months ago, a Minister said to me here that we were burying our heads in the sand if we ignored the energy potential from fracking. It might not be a bad idea if we did, given that our health would be much better.
Deputy Alex White: I do not know who said that. It was not me.
Mick Wallace: It was someone from the Minister's party who had the job before him.
Deputy Alex White: While I understand what the Deputy is saying, I respectfully disagree with him when he says there is no need to have the matter researched. We should have it researched here and have expert scientific evidence available to us in this jurisdiction.
Evidence is evidence, not opinion. Evidence is about the science, and I would like to see the science as, I am sure, would the Deputy.
Mick Wallace: Some science experts are climate change deniers and are well-known and are perceived to be very knowledgeable. People can form opinions and very often, sadly, some people have a vested interest in the opinion they form, even if it is based on so-called expert research. Natural gas is a fossil fuel which produces heat-trap carbon dioxide when combusted as well as generating other global warming emissions. At every stage of the fracking process there are methane leaks, and methane is more than 30 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. I am even more worried about the water table
We already have enough problems with the water table which I believe are directly linked with the high rate of cancer in Ireland. The water table has been poisoned in many areas and the incidence of cancer is on the increase. The rate in Ireland is five times that in Italy. The water table presents a serious problem and fracking would only add to it.
The people who say fracking is not dangerous stand to profit from it, more often than not. A serious amount of research says otherwise. I appeal to the Minister to think seriously before even dreaming of allowing fracking to commence in Ireland. It is a no-brainer.
Deputy Alex White: There is no prospect of there being any developments in this area for quite some considerable time. The Environmental Protection Agency commissioned study is under way. It will not report before the middle of 2016. I would have thought that at that stage we would require a significant period either for me or whoever has the honour of being in this position as Minister to review and consider the matter then, as well as debate it in the House.
Mick Wallace: We have a big problem in politics in how we make decisions, because we work from one election to the next. On top of that, we have an extra-large problem when it comes to addressing climate change in that none of us sees it as directing us in the near future. We do not feel it will affect us in the near future and that is a problem for us.
It is an attitude that has hampered progress. The Minister pointed out that he might not be in this role in the next Government. However, he has an opportunity now to leave his mark. The country is screaming out for someone to take up a position, which the Minister can do, of saying it is about time we took climate change seriously. If he has read Naomi Klein's book, This Changes Everything, the Minister will know its contents are frightening. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill the Government is introducing is a pittance and does not address the problems we are facing in the long term. Sadly, too much of our decision-making is short-termist. We struggle to make plans for the long term whenever doing so will cost money…”