Described by Acting County Manager, Martin Dolan as “one of the biggest and most far-reaching things Leitrim County Council has ever had to deal with”, the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is commonly known, was the Council’s main focus of attention last Monday night.
A chamber filled with tension saw 17 of the 22 councillors vote in favour of a lengthy and detailed motion to be inserted into the new Leitrim County Draft Development Pl;an.
Those who voted for it came from all parties and none and from all parts of the county. Four Fine Gael members, Gordon Hughes, John McCartin, Enda McGloin and Thomas Mulligan, abstained while Cllr Gerry Reynolds was the only member to vote against the proposal.
Members debated the proposal before a vote was taken. Cllr Sean McSharry admitted he wanted fracking banned as it was not going to benefit Leitrim. He said it was time to step up and say you were either for or against it.
Cllr Mary Bohan said it was a very difficult issue for them and they were trying to do the best for the people they represent.
“We have a right to make our view known and make a strong statement. It also sends a message to the Minister that we are very serious about this,” she said, adding that fracking was not consistent with what they were trying to do in the County Development Plan.
Cllr Gerry Kilrane and others acknowledged the hard work of the executive in forming a wording that fulfils their legal and statutory obligations but said it falls short of what is required in this situation.
Cllr Martin Kenny said they should not be bound by legal opinion but by what is the right thing to do. It is right to stand by our people, our county and our environment, he said.
Many other councillors including Tony Ferguson, Cathaoirleach, Sean McDermott and Siobhan McGloin spoke in favour of the proposal.
However, Cllr Gerry Reynolds was a lone voice against it and said he did not believe in prohibiting or banning anything. He said he understood people’s fears and respected their views but hoped they too would respect his.
Cllr Reynolds said he believed in the institutions of the state and thinks the EPA is in a position to make a decision whether fracking takes place in this country or not.
Councillors were warned by Mr Dolan and Director of Services, Joseph Gilhooly that a blanket ban was “not legally sound.”
A warning was issued that under the Local Government Act a surcharge would be levied against those who support the proposal should a claim be made against Leitrim County Council and it incur any loss of funds as a result.
Some members disagreed with the legal advice issued.
Cllr John McCartin questioned if all other failsafes that had been proposed in the past, such as under the European Water Framework, would now be gone as a result of this motion being passed. He was told yes, they would.
The wording as proposed by the Council executive was rejected in favour of Cllr Dolan’s proposed wording
In brief, the proposal acknowledged that there is significant and growing public concern in respect to the social, public health, economic and environmental impacts that may be associated with unconventional oil/gas exploration and extraction (UGEE) in Leitrim and adjacent counties.
It included three policies, namely that the “precautionary principle” be applied to any UGEE within the county.
Given the available scientific and anecdotal evidence of the significant dangers of such projects it is the policy of Leitrim County Council that UGEE projects not be permitted within the county.
It is the policy to carefully scrutinise any UGEE project proposal outside the county where it may, due to geographical proximity, have a significant impact on the county.
Finally, it is the policy of the Council, in the eventuality that an outside body or bodies takes steps to overrule policy one (that UGEE projects not be permitted), that a comprehensive full life cycle Health Impact Assessment will be required for any proposal for UGEE located inside the county, as a mandatory component of the evaluation of any such proposals.