Enough of the mischief -there’s quite enough of that in the latest minutes released by this group. What has been interesting to note is that up to this point, as far as I’m aware there has been no Policy on Shale Gas explicitly. Its a kind of rolling argument but effectively before announcing a plan or program likely to have effects on the Environment and on Human Health, one is bound by the SEA directive. The Strategic Environmental Asessment would allow one to independently assess the plan, and would allow the public a chance to have their say on it. There is even a bit in the SEA Guidance about Human health – including the running of a full Public Health Impact Assessment if required. In fact just recently the EU commission agree in their latest recommendations that no exploration licence should be handed out without an SEA where unconventional fossil fuels are likely to be targeted.
So lets have a look at the Oct 2013 minutes of the Shale Gas Regulators Forum. We find noted
” The Minister and officials agreed that the development of indigenous energy resources, including oil and gas, in Northern Ireland is integral to the development of a competitive energy market and ensuring security of energy supply and that the potential economic benefit of shale gas to NI should be investigated, provided this can be achieved safely and without undue harm to the environment.”
Now, this raises lots of questions, the very first being that we have a statement of Policy – to investigate Shale Gas and the development of energy resources, including oil and gas. Thing is that the same Minister has said that fracking (which is required for investigations in shale) is a controversial issue and needs referring to the executive. Is the Minister going to refer herself to the executive ? A number of further questions need answering. Is it right that Policy be decided in a Departmental meeting ? What independent research is being used to show ‘Potential Benefits’ ? Is the statement that indigenous oil and gas are integral to the development of a competitive energy market true ? Where’s the independent economic analysis of this ? Shouldn’t this have been done BEFORE issuing a licence to Explore for shale Gas ? Finally on Security of Supply – the IEA (2011) define Energy Security as “uninterrupted physical availability at a price which is affordable, while respecting environment concerns”. That a licence to explore for Shale Gas has already been issued, without the necessary upfront Environmental (and Public Health) studies is the wrong way round. Doing studies on the fly – with pressure from commercial interests – may not result in the correct decisions being made and certainly puts pressure on adequate consultation, especially with the public. Its becoming clear that if fracking is given a green light, without an SEA , that no appropriate assessment of policy will have been carried out.
There’s another interesting piece that comes from the minutes.
“Derek Reay (DMR) outlined a new initiative to pair scientists with MLAs. The scheme, initiated by GSNI, is run by the Northern Ireland Assembly Strengthening Trust and emulates a similar scheme already running at Westminster. The first round of this scheme will involve earth scientists and this will be an opportunity to link scientists with MLAs interested in shale gas.”
This is odd, as Mike Young at the Golder Associates Lecture in November 2013 said “the issue is more of a planning issue then an engineering issue-certainly in government we believe that the engineering issues are manageable” Perhaps we should be pairing planners with the MLAs. Personally I take it as a recognition that the Science is NOT settled, and more importantly a further recognition that policy is being formulated on the hoof. – From this announcement you can see, NIALST function is “to engage elected representatives and inform policy making.” ie policy is not yet formed. There are big problems with pairing scientists with politicians, notwithstanding the whole problem of ‘frackademia’ is how can we endeavour that Scientists quote peer reviewed literature, and not opinion. Mr Young gave his opinion at the conference. Are we to trust our politicians know the difference ?
The final part of the minutes that throw up an interesting question is documented below.
“MT recalled that Minister Durkan also wants advance notice of the Tamboran lease before release. MT added that other stakeholders, MLAs, councillors etc should also be advised and that Tamboran should put in place a communication strategy to keep stakeholders fully informed.”
I would have thought that ‘WE’ the ‘PEOPLE’, residents and those affected most by any fracking exploration or other proposal would have been most important to be notified – not just because its good practice, but actually because of a simple thing called the Aarhus Convention. In another case of being ‘out of touch’ the lack of any reference in the minutes to residents and people directly affected by Tamboran’s decisions points once again to a way of thinking and policy formation that is outmoded and driven by ‘insiders’.
I made a request that the Shale Gas Regulators Forum meeting minutes be posted within 6 weeks of the last meeting. That appears to have fallen on deaf ears. That the Minister consistently disparages those of us opposed to ‘fracking’ as alarmists and mis-informed shows just how out of touch she is, and how badly the Department is faring with regards to garnering public support.