EPA's role in relation to fracking

Date released: Sep 19 2011

 The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is the designated regulatory body with regard to the exploration phases associated with hydraulic fracturing.  If and when the exploratory phase progresses to commercial extraction of shale gas then, in addition to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the planning authorities, the EPA will have a regulatory role. 

The EPA’s role is to assess licence applications for activities listed in the EPA Acts, in line with EU Directives and to decide whether or not to grant an operating licence. Any activity listed in the EPA Acts must apply for an operating licence from the EPA.  The commercial extraction of shale gas is listed as a Scheduled Activity under the EPA Act (“extraction, other than offshore extraction, of petroleum, natural gas, coal or bituminous shale”) and therefore is an activity for which an application for an IPPC licence must be submitted. 

No applications for the commercial extraction of shale gas have been received by the EPA for assessment. 

Any application in the future to the EPA for a licence for the commercial extraction of shale gas would be assessed on a case by case basis, in accordance with the requirements of the EPA Acts.  These Acts include that the EPA is statutorily barred from issuing a licence to an activity which can cause significant environmental pollution.

Applicants would be required to demonstrate that the proposed activity would not cause any breaches of National legislation or European directives, including:

  • The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC
  • The Groundwater Directives 80/68/EC and 2006/118/EC
  • The European Environmental Objectives (Surface Water) Regulations 2009
  • Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC
  • Cultural heritage, habitats and Protected species legislation

 It is anticipated that some of the key issues to be addressed in any future application with regard to hydraulic fracturing would include: the potential for groundwater contamination from methane migration and chemical use, climate change impact and water usage. Applicants for such a licence would be required to demonstrate the use of best environmental practice and the use of state of the art technologies in order to minimise environmental impact.

As part of the licence application process, anyone can make a submission on an application, and the EPA must have regard to any submissions received when assessing the application. Subsequent to a proposed decision on the application, there is an objection period which allows the applicant and third parties to object to the decision. The EPA would assess any such objections received, including any requests for an oral hearing into the objections, in accordance with its legal obligations.

Frequently Asked Questions about shale-gas fracking and the EPA’s role are available at FAQ