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2 March 2015 Edition

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Ground-breaking summit in Fermanagh on fracking

Sinn Féin and GUE/NGL European Parliament group host international expert panel

• Attendees at the conference show their opposition to hydraulic fracturing

‘Research in North America shows that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm’

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A HIGH-POWERED Anti-Fracking Conference held in County Fermanagh on Friday 20 February heard experts condemn fracking as a dangerous practice that raises the “serious threat of serious or irreversible harm to humans or the environment”.

Organised by Sinn Féin through the party’s  Martina Anderson MEP and sponsored by the European Parliament group GUE/NGL, to which the party is aligned, the conference brought anti-fracking groups from across Ireland to Enniskillen’s Lough Erne resort.

As well as the local contributors, experts from Europe and the United States took part. These included Andy Gheorghiu from Germany. Professor Tony Ingraffea, from Cornell University in the United States, joined the conference by video link.

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• Michelle Gildernew MP says Sinn Féin will stand with the people

Fermanagh & South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew, who chaired the conference, told the pro-fracking lobby that Sinn Féin would stand with the people of the Border region around Fermanagh and Leitrim to oppose what she called “the destruction of the environment by shale gas exploration”.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD brought the conference to a close and committed the party to supporting the communities on both sides of the Border, including the farmers and concerned citizens who are against fracking.

“The potential pollution of air and water courses as a result of drilling poses a significant threat to agriculture and the environment,” the Louth TD said, “and the potential contamination of the area will result in long-term economic damage.”

In his contribution the key-note speaker, German-based anti-fracking activist Andy Gheorghiu, encouraged people to work together to oppose fracking.

Recently he contributed to the Friends of the Earth report Fracking Frenzy: How the fracking industry is threatening the planet.

He explained how, in 2013, German anti-fracking groups met in Korbach and agreed the Korbach Resolution which helped build a stronger national and international anti-fracking network”.

Of the local contributors, Dr Carroll O’Dolan, the health spokesperson for the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network (FFAN) delivered a very detailed talk.

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 Sinn Féin Mayo Councillor Rose Conway-Walsh

In his contribution the medical practitioner used evidence from international sources, including the Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick, Canada. He quoted Professor Oswald, from Cornell University in the USA, who described fracking as “an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale”.

He highlighted the “very important” Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracking (HVHF) released by the New York State Department in December 2014. This report was the cornerstone of evidence used by the New York State Commissioner to issue a legally-binding statement that prohibits HVHF in New York.

Significantly, O’Dolan said:

“What has come out of the research in North America is that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm.”

O’Dolan focused on air and water pollution in areas of the United States where fracking is established. Infant mortality rose six times above the normal rate in Uintah, Utah;  in Eaglesford, Texas, there is a predicted 281% increase in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are known carcinogens and neurological disruptors.

Also in Utah, “previously with pristine air equality, now has levels of smog and air pollution that rivals downtown Los Angeles”.

As for the “frack fluid”, the water containing chemicals pumped into the wells, argues O’Dolan, 50% returns as flowback. “Thus thousands of millions of gallons of contaminated water will be present on the surface of HVHF areas.”

According to O’Dolan, benzene, mercury, arsenic and toluene chemicals (which cause leukaemia, brain damage, birth defects and lung disease) are present in the flowback water on the surface at HVHF sites.

Worryingly, in Britain, the 2014 Public Health Review Engalnd (PHE) stated that the health risks of HVHF are “low”.

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• Martina Anderson MEP speaks to reporters at Lough Erne

FFAN has compiled a detailed response, says O’Dolan, “pointing out many shortcomings in the methodology used.

He said that Westminster Government ministers are already trying to use the PHE draft review “to over-rule legitimate public health concerns”.

Meanwhile, the threat to the environment across the north coast was also highlighted at the conference.

The Protect Our North Coast (PONC) group is campaigning to block the exploration of the Rathlin Basin, extending across the area around Rathlin Island and the coast of Counties Antrim and Derry by Rathlin Energy Ltd.

According to PONC, the licence granted to the company “is a licence to frack” and thus threaten the natural beauty of the north coast as well threaten agriculture and the biodiversity of the area.

Speaking to An Phoblacht as the conference closed, Martina Anderson MEP commended the contributors and said it demonstrated that the opposition to fracking is based on solid scientific and medical reasons “and opponents shouldn’t be dismissed as being against progress”.

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