Senator Daly: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is important that the survey which is an audit of our natural resources be made available to the public. It is important to know what we have and what resources we can use safely and extract safely and those which it would be better to leave alone.
The Minister is well aware of the issues in respect of natural resources and fracking. Fracking is contentious everywhere, but especially so in the Lough Allen basin where the available resource is so shallow. In terms of trying to extract it, it is very close to the surface compared to other jurisdictions, such as the North where it is at a different level. The likelihood of the very dangerous materials making their way into the ground water is high given the closeness of the deposits to the water table.
We are sharing some of the information with industry and industry will be happy to use the knowledge. It would cost industry a lot in some instances to extract that information. Unfortunately, in some cases it might then be used against local communities.
Fracking in America has basically stopped its need to import oil. We have to import most of our energy, given the unreliability of solar and wind energy. It is a serious step when dealing with the issue of hydraulic fracking to move into the space of short-term gain for long-term loss. There is not a huge amount of surface in terms of the size of the country itself and the Minister is aware of the long-term down-sides.
I am not given to the sensationalism seen in documentaries such as Gasland.I am sure the Minister is aware of these documentaries. I prefer the more than one thousand reports which are available on the potential down-sides of fracking. When big industry is involved, all the upsides are put out there but any down-sides are well and truly hidden.
The cost of electricity supply to industry and business is another issue related to our natural resources. There is a view that we have one of the highest electricity rates in Europe and that we can, through fracking, exploit natural resources such as gas off the coast or in the famous, and infamous, Corrib field. There is an idea that we have so much in the way of natural resources, including tidal energy, which has not been developed to its full extent. The economic viability of deploying millions of euros worth of equipment into the ocean to extract a viable resource and a return for investors has not been achieved.
There are concerns surrounding our other natural resource, wind energy. If we planted the entire country with wind farms, it still would not be enough. This is a broad issue in terms of the survey that has been done. There is no doubt this is a valuable survey, as it is necessary for the State, as owners of those resources in the first instance, to know how much exists when considering granting licences. Profit-sharing is always a potential model that can be used. However, I know the Minister shares the concerns in relation to the effects, including long-term effects, for communities of the extraction of resources through hydraulic fracking.
This does not just impact on Leitrim and Cavan, the Border counties but if there was one small leak of hydraulic fracking fluids it would contaminate the entire water course all the way to Limerick and out to sea. That is my concern because I welcome this initiative and its educational element.
I can appreciate the challenge the Minister faces in getting pupils interested in rocks and to regard them in a different way, as a resource and State asset by explaining how they can benefit not just the State or a company but also a local community. That is the most important aspect of any survey, to identify what one has, then maximise it for the betterment of all citizens and ensure that any decisions made by this or any future Government would not have a long-term detrimental effect on the citizens and communities that should benefit. That is one of the issues arising from the grid system. There are huge pylons going through communities and proposals for more to disperse the energy created by wind or other means around the country. The communities they impact on most are the ones that do not benefit. They are left to deal with EirGrid and the question of putting the cables underground, which is a debate for another day.
There must be community benefit clauses when it comes to dealing with these issues. Giving a set of jerseys to a local GAA club or a few thousand euro to a few organisations in the hope of splitting the community is not the right approach to the extraction and use of natural resources by big companies. A structure has to be put in place with a community benefit clause when large infrastructural projects involving the extraction of natural resources have an impact on the community which will not benefit unless that is done.