Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Geological Survey of Ireland: Statements (Resumed)
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.
I commend the Minister on his embrace of Gaeilge. He will be an inspiration to many who unfortunately fell between the cracks when it came to learning Irish at second level. I speak on behalf of my colleague, Senator Mulcahy, who is not available to speak on it. I do not know a great deal about this issue but I find it fascinating. The evolution of the teaching of geography has been fascinating. History and geography are intrinsically linked. Knowing what resources we have is important from a planning and environmental perspective. The mapping programme the GSI is involved in is very important for garnering and collating the knowledge, which is very powerful.
Where I come from, County Clare, we are only in our infancy in working out the mass of rock on the Burren.
I remember at school being fascinated by the rock of the Burren. There are caves under the Burren that have never been explored. I am thinking of scholars and, indeed, business engaging with this process, identifying the caves and future tourist attractions. I am thinking also of a recent product called the Doolin cave in which the largest and longest stalagtite in the world to date was found. That has proved to be a very significant tourist attraction in County Clare. We have the Cliffs of Moher which I would describe as a gold plated tourist attraction but in order to keep people, we need silver plated attractions. I consider the Doolin cave to be extremely informative, giving visitors a significant understanding of the myriad of underground caves, the way they link up and the wonderful creations which result.
We have all been contacted about the issue of franking. Perhaps this mapping will give us the knowledge to be able to understand the arguments on both sides. Sometimes it is not easy to understand them because they can be very technical. The challenge the Minister of State and his officials have is to use language that makes this understandable to the ordinary citizen. When one thinks of computers, one thinks tech geeks but computers are now accessible to the vast majority of people because the language has been decoded. I suggest the same is the case with this. There is a challenge in terms of communication. The Minister of State correctly made the point that this information is available free of charge to anybody who wants it but the challenge is to ensure it is in an understandable format and that the language used is clear and understandable to the majority of people who would not necessarily have the expertise those involved, or engaged, in the industry have.
This is a very worthwhile endeavour and the knowledge we will garner from it will equip us going forward in terms of chartering a recovery and ensuring that our natural resources are respected, protected and are used to assist the people. I agree with what my colleague, Senator Daly, said that there must be a social dividend and that it cannot be all about big business. The way we can ensure there is a proper social dividend is by having the knowledge. We should start by developing and gaining the knowledge and then we can talk. Once we have the knowledge, know what is available to us and what our natural resources are, then we can develop licensing and so on. Sometimes we put the cart before the horse and get excited thinking we have a resource. However, when somebody has a licence and the rights, we discover the resource is far bigger and there is not the payback to citizens.
At the moment, a team of researchers is searching where the Spanish Armada went down off the coast of Clare. The project has been going on for a number of months and I was privileged to be at the launch of it in the Spanish Armada Hotel in Spanish Point. What they are doing is very exciting. From a history perspective, they will garner quite an amount of information.
This is an island nation and I recognise what the Minister of State said that it is not just about what is underground but it includes our seas. We all saw what happened last January with the flooding and so on. I am sure we can build up a lot of knowledge about our shorelines with this mapping which might assist us in understanding climatic factors, what could happen in the future and so on.
The Minister might comment on the joined up thinking across the Departments and agencies in this regard. I know there is interaction within the private sector in relation to research and so on but what engagement is taking place between the various Departments and agencies involved in this area?
It saddens me that the marine industry accounts for only 3% or 4% of our GDP. It may be even below 2%. It should be significantly higher. We have an opportunity to create thousands of jobs if we seriously invest in the marine industry in this country. However, that is an issue on which we can have a debate on another day. Rather than exporting our raw material, in terms of fish caught etc., we should be processing it and exporting the finished product thereby creating jobs in this country. This is not happening to the degree possible. As I said, that is perhaps an issue for debate on another day. I thank the Minister for what has been an interesting engagement thus far. This is the type of issue that should be discussed in the Seanad in terms of it having the space and opportunity to dig down into areas of government like this that might not necessarily feature in the other House. When we have those opportunities we should take them.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ba mhaith liom é a mholadh as ucht an cur i láthair as Gaeilge a rinne sé ag tús na hóráide. Tá sé ag déanamh an-dul chun cinn ó thaobh na Gaeilge agus molaim é as sin. Molaim na Seanadóirí eile atá ag úsáid an méid Gaeilge atá acu chomh maith céanna. Ábhar fíor-spéisiúil i ndáiríre atá i gceist inniu. Is ábhar é nach bhfuil an t-úafás taithí agam ann, cé go bhfuil neart clocha i gConamara. Ba chóir go mbeadh níos mó tuiscint againn ar an geo-eolaíocht atá timpeall orainn. Is dóigh gur cheart a rá maidir leis an ngeo-eolaíocht agus an méid atá á mhúineadh sna scoileanna gur cheart go mbeadh gach páiste sna scoileanna ag foghlaim níos mó maidir le cúrsaí tír-eolais agus mar sin de. Is trua an rud é go bhfuil titim siar ar an méid tír-eolais atá á mhúineadh inár gcuid scoileanna. Baineann an geo-eolaíocht agus an méid a bhaineann le sin le fíor-phictúir a thabhairt maidir le Éireann agus an fíor-thír atá againn.
Every child that attends a primary school should be taught a little more geology as a means of educating them on the real size of Ireland. We often view Ireland as a small country but a recently published map of Ireland shows that this country is not limited to the land mass we are most accustomed to seeing in the average map or atlas in that Ireland has an area of ten times its land mass with rocks, sand and natural resources up to 5 kilometres deep in our oceans. It is fascinating to look at the real map of Ireland from that perspective. It is important that our school children not learn only about Ireland defined by 32 counties. This country has far more interesting natural wonders and resources reaching far into the Atlantic Ocean.
We often talk about tourism and its benefits for Ireland. However, much of this tourism is inextricably tied to the geology of the country as expressed previously. The lakes, rivers and mountains were formed thousands or even millions of years ago by movement of rocks and tectonic plates. A colleague of mine, a councillor in Galway, Cathal Ó Conchúir, has done some really good work through the department of education at NUIG in the area of e-books on this whole issue.Leabhra eile as Gaeilge, gur féidir a fháil mar e-leabhra, ag míníu cé as a dtáinig na rudaí seo ar fad agus tá siad den tuairim ansin gur féidir turasóireacht a chur chun cinn go mór in san gceantar sin ó thaobh fiú daoine a bheith ag staidéar na tíreolaíochta. There is huge potential from a tourism perspective in many universities across the world coming to the west of Ireland in particular to study the geology and geography of that area. This geology gives Ireland the natural beauty for which it is famous and which attracts visitors from around the world each year. However, geology still has a part to play in attracting tourism. Areas such as the Burren in County Clare have fascinated an entire myriad of scientists. It is essential that the Government ensures that the Burren and other areas are properly promoted, maintained and serviced so that researchers from around the world can discover their wonders.
The Government should also ensure that Irish scholars have access to research funding in this area. Geoscience initiatives have great possibilities for the Irish economy, in particular through the area of energy. Geothermal is an exciting form of renewable energy. If properly researched this could be an innovative means of heating buildings. Geothermal energy offers one of the best solutions to the State attempts to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions it pumps into the atmosphere.
The history of major climate change events can be found hidden in our rocks. Geoscientists can use information from the study of rocks to discover what occurred when the planet heated up or cooled down in the past. This information may be essential to those tackling climate change into the future. In addition, geoscience is vital if we are to harness the extensive resources of oil and gas off our coastline. While there has been little extraction of those resources to date, it does not mean they will be of no value in the future. Technology in this area is constantly improving and there is major potential for the resources to be accessed. Sinn Féin has always maintained that the State should play a serious role in that regard. A State petroleum company should be established, for example, which would provide resources and jobs for geologists and other scientists.
Geoscience goes hand in hand with the study of groundwater, which is a very topical issue in Connemara at the moment go háirithe i gCeathrú Rua ina bhfuil fadhbanna againn le caighdeán an uisce ach ní phléfimid é sin inniu. There is an obvious link between geology and the water that we drink. In fact, geoscience is essential to ensure we have safe drinking water as the rocks beneath our feet act as a natural filtration system to clean our water. A good example of this is the potential for contamination of the groundwater in the Lough Allen basin if fracking is introduced there. Fracking involves the pumping of pressurised water and chemicals into the ground to crack rocks that store unconventional gas. It is a highly dangerous method of gas extraction and any geoscientist worth his or her salt would say it is not suitable for this country.
Deánaim comhghairdeas maidir leis na leabhra a luadh ansin agus iad sin a bheith foilsithe as Gaeilge. Tá sé go maith freisin go bhfuiltear ag tógáil cur chuige uile-Éireann maidir leis an suirbhéireacht atá á dhéanamh. Feicim féin, ó thug na Gallimhe na báid ag dul amach ag déanamh an suirbhéireacht ar cruinne na farraige ach go háirid, go bhfuil an obair sin ag dul go mór chun tairbhe na tíre ar fad. Is gné an-tábhachtach an obair seo agus tá súil agam go leanfaidh sí.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I am pleased we are discussing this issue because geography is a subject near and dear to my heart. The Minister of State touched on the educational aspect in his contribution. I was very fortunate to have an enthusiastic geography teacher, Noel Maher, principal of St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin, who instilled his love and regard for the subject in his students. That stays with people throughout their lives. I am glad to see the Minister of State taking the same type of enthusiastic and interested approach to this aspect of his portfolio, with a particular emphasis on bilingual engagement with schools throughout the country. It can only serve us well into the future when we work to instill an interest in geology, geography and the related sciences in young people. There are long-term economic and environmental benefits for communities from taking that approach.
There is probably something of an out of sight, out of mind situation going on when it comes to geoscientific issues, and activities in this area tend to operate below the radar. As we have seen with our water network infrastructure, things can go on unnoticed until there is a problem or crisis, by which time it is too late and the horse has bolted. I am glad to see the resources and personnel being applied by the Minister of State and his colleagues in the Department to addressing so many geological surveys, both within the island itself and in our adjacent seas. I agree with the Minister of State that these assets are the bedrock of much of our rural economy and will continue so into the future. There are, for instance, excellent prospects and targets for growth in terms of the agrifood sector. We all are aware of the plans for rapid expansion in the dairy industry. All of these plans are dependent on a safe, sustainable and secure supply of water from our water courses - rivers, streams and lakes - and our water tables. They are of profound importance to this country's economic future and social well-being.
Many communities around the country are fearful that they will find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the prospect of fracking. Will the Minister of State indicate the status of the fracking survey being conducted by the Department and the timelines surrounding it? When can we expect the scientific and geological information that will allow us to have an informed and constructive debate on this contentious issue? We do not want to be pre-emptive and take sides before we see the evidence. On the face of it, however, the reality is that we do not have the landmass of Russia or the United States. In North Dakota, for example, fracking and shale gas exploration is booming. We are a very small island and our water courses and water tables are intrinsically linked to communities and every aspect of people's lives. My view at this juncture, in light of these considerations, is that Ireland is not suited to a fracking industry.
However, the jury is still out on that question and much of it is contingent on the scientific data that will emerge from the geoscience surveys conducted by the Department. I wish the Minister of State well in his endeavours and would appreciate an insight into the status of those surveys.
The Minister of State, a good Donegal man, is always welcome in the House. Like Senator Whelan, I have serious concerns about fracking. We must have clarity as to Government policy in this regard because the majority of people have huge concerns about the whole process. Senator Daly observed that once big business gets involved, everything becomes hidden and the voice of the people is no longer heeded. The Minister of State is aware of the situation in my county of Roscommon where the majority of people cannot consume the water coming out of their taps. I appreciate that a lot of good work is being done in the county in putting new treatment plants in place. My concern in regard to fracking is that the outcome is so uncertain. When that drill goes into the ground, there is no way to know what will happen. The fracking debate must be conducted with the seriousness it deserves.
I welcome all the geological surveys being done by the Department. Longford, Westmeath and my own county are currently being surveyed and the results will be released next year. I am concerned, however, about how much of an impact these surveys have on planning authorities, particularly An Bord Pleanála. Last year, for instance, we had a situation in County Roscommon where the local community in Dysart was opposed to a wind farm development. In fairness to the local authority, it came down on the side of the community and decided the project should not proceed. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was also on the community's side in opposing this development. However, planning permission was granted on appeal by An Bord Pleanála, despite the surveys that had been done showing the number of aquifers all over the area which should not have been tampered with. People in that community had to go out and fund-raise in order to take a case to the High Court, a case which they won.
It is all about big business, as we can see from EirGrid's plans for developing Grid West.
EirGrid would lead a person to believe that pylons are good for one. This is more of the big business spin people must put up with, while at the same time the ESB is questioning the need for the Grid West and Grid Link projects at all. What work does the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, do on areas of possible subsidence? For instance, if the Grid West project is to go ahead, it will proceed in a straight line from west County Mayo all the way to Flagford, County Roscommon, near Carrick-on-Shannon. While the Minister of State may not have the expertise to hand in this regard, are surveys carried out on the ground over the project's entire length of 40 to 50 miles to assess the possibilities of future subsidence?
Finally, I will revert to wind energy. As Senator Daly noted, were one to pin-cushion the entire country with wind farms, it would not provide the amount of energy required. It is a folly and while all economists are making this point, we are not listening to them. Instead, the wind farm developers are being allowed to fire ahead and put wind farms all over this country. Again, has the possibility of subsidence been addressed, because it will happen at some time in the future? It is essential to start listening to the experts but this is not happening in respect of wind energy at present. The focus is completely on wind energy and no other types of green energy are being considered. All the money is being pumped into this sector but for what I do not know. This is a serious issue and various parts of the Minister of State's native county of Donegal are up in arms, in particular in Glenties and elsewhere, where people are attempting to fight against these developments going ahead. They have nobody on their side except for the economists who state they are a waste of money and are not viable.
Cuirim fáilte Uí Cheallaigh roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad. Tá fáilte Uí Cheallaigh roimh gach uair a thagann sé isteach sa Teach seo. As the Minister of State mentioned in his opening contribution, at the height of the boom in 2006 the value of the geosciences sector to the economy was put at €4.2 billion. I must admit I was not aware of that and it comprised approximately 3% of GDP and contributed significantly to the building, energy, mining and environmental services sector. More recently, independent studies have valued the mining and related industries alone at €800 million per annum, which, as the Minister of State indicated, represents 1,400 jobs. Moreover, most of these jobs are located in rural areas where jobs are required and it is great to see that happening. The Irish oil and gas industry, while consisting of only two producing gas fields with a third under development, is considered to have real potential for further discoveries and I understand a further licensing round will take place next year.
I wish to say a few words in respect of the mapping of the seabed. The integrated mapping for the sustainable development of Ireland's marine resource, INFOMAR, programme is Ireland's national marine mapping programme and aims to complete the survey of all of Ireland's marine territory. The programme, funded by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, is managed by the GSI in conjunction with the Marine Institute and next year will reach a major milestone with the completion of the first phase of the inshore mapping. While the coastline was being mapped off the coast of my native county of Louth, I had the opportunity to be invited out onto the ship, the name of which I have forgotten. All Oireachtas Members were invited aboard and it was an absolutely wonderful experience to see that Ireland has equipment capable of doing what they were doing out there. I also should add they were men who were very happy at their work. It was a wonderful experience and I am glad I took it up.
The Minister of State mentioned that the Tellus programme is carrying out airborne geophysical surveying and ground, soil and water sampling to create new geological and environmental datasets. The surveying of Northern Ireland has already been completed by the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland in the first instance of the programme. As I come from the Border county of Louth, I was aware of the aeroplanes that were taking part in this worthwhile project. To date, the GSI has surveyed almost all of the Border counties under the INTERREG-funded Tellus Border phase and is completing work in counties Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon as part of the Tellus North Midlands survey. An increased funding allocation for the Tellus programme has been approved in the budget for 2015 and will result in further data acquisition, which in turn will result in new maps and products. Significantly, these will not simply be for geology but will include soil chemistry maps of use in agriculture and airborne-derived radon maps for use in human health planning.
The issue of fracking has been mentioned by many of my colleagues and I am also concerned because I have had meetings with many communities with deep concerns as to what may happen to, for instance, the water courses or whatever. I would like to be convinced that fracking will not harm the nation's underground water sources. However, the Minister of State should be aware that communities are very fearful. Níl rud éigean eile le rá agam except that the outreach and education activities must be mentioned. I am unsure whether the Minister of State mentioned this aspect but the GSI engages in extensive outreach activities to both the professional and educational sectors. This ranges from a major presence at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for a number of years to the provision of a geoscience textbook for the second-level leaving certificate geography curriculum, as well as participation at events such as the National Ploughing Championships.
This year, for the first time, GSI has worked with An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, COGG, to produce Irish-language versions of some of its most popular outreach products, including a schools' geology map and the Real Map of Ireland, that is, an Fíor-Léarscáil na hÉireann, as well as a simplified geology book, An Gheolaíocht ó Bhun go Barr, mar a dúirt an Aire Stáit.
The Acting Chairman is correct to note I am a former Senator. As I recall a debate in this Chamber on whether a person was a former distinguished Member or a distinguished former Member, this is a place in which to have a debate to discuss matters.
I acknowledge the contributions of Members this evening and it certainly was not simply a case of making contributions and asking questions.
A few of the Members have made suggestions which I will take on board, and I wish to note that at the outset.
Senator Daly focused his contribution on the very real concerns people have in respect of fracking. It is important that I am prescriptive in stating Government policy on this issue. There is no fracking and, as far as I am concerned, there will be no fracking while an Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, survey is ongoing. The EPA survey is linking in with Government agencies and Irish universities and also those of Northern Ireland, so there will be a heavy reliance on expertise, information and education on North-South, intergovernmental and educational bases.
This is important because the survey will last at least two years. I have spoken at length to my officials about this. I do not want a situation to develop whereby there is a vacuum for a period of two years in a survey which started in August of this year. I wish to build into this research and to have the conversation continue on an internal political level. Through this House and the Dáil, I hope we can, at some stage or at various stages, have an input into the study and find out what its current position is and the direction in which it is going. Senator Whelan asked what the current position is. We need to ensure the input of this House because there are very real concerns at a community level. I have met with many groups, including groups in counties Leitrim and Sligo. The Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, and I met with a delegation from Cavan and Leitrim county councils. We take their concerns very seriously, and the two pillars of the research focus on environmental and human health issues.
I agree with Senator Whelan that this is a small country. This is not Russia or the wild plains of Dakota. We have to take archaeology, geology, heritage, flora, and fauna - every single element - into account in this study to ensure a proper investigation is carried out. We need to ensure the proper advice is given to people who will make the necessary decision when it arrives on their desk. It will not be my decision. It is a decision that is at least two years down the line. However, it is important that we have a mechanism to feed into that conversation.
Senator Daly is correct in saying that there has to be a connect between community and business. I am open to suggestions he has on this. Senator Conway, who comes from County Clare, made reference to the correlation between history and geography. As a geography student, I spent time in County Clare exploring its flora and fauna and all other aspects of the geological bounty at the disposal of the local people, in particular the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. We will do whatever we can to share the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, research, to promote the linkage between university, government and community and to share the economic and tourism benefits that might follow.
Senator Conway made the point about making information understandable. This is key and critical, as sometimes we get bogged down in jargon. Before taking office in my Department, I had the possibly stereotypical predisposition towards geology that it cannot be made exciting. I wondered how we could excite and engage primary and second-level students in it. We do it by bringing the information to them in an understandable way. I acknowledge the work of Glenveagh National Park in this regard. No doubt there will be other projects, for instance in Kerry where Senator Ned O'Sullivan is from, where our national parks, rich heritage, archaeology and landscape is shared with schools through school trips. Students will be brought to the areas to learn in an interactive way.
Senator Conway also mentioned preventive measures when referring to flooding issues in County Clare over the last few years. The engagement between the OPW, local authorities and different agencies in trying to prevent future flooding is key and my Department is central to this.
Labhair an Seandóir Ó Clochartaigh faoin leabhar geo-eolaíochta agus an ceangailt agus an nasc idir an stair agus an tíreolaíocht. He made the point about regarding Ireland in its proper context. Ireland is the fourth largest country in Europe. We should make a concerted effort to get that information and message out there. In terms of our sea basin, we are fourth in size after France, Spain and Portugal. It is an immense resource. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is involved in a big partnership in terms of our ocean's wealth and my Department is feeding into that.
I acknowledge the INFOMAR project again and its research. Senator Terry Brennan has been out off County Louth. It is invaluable work, as the resources are there. It is not just oil and gas. There is a momentum at the moment in terms of companies looking at potential exploration drilling. However, we have to look at the magnitude of the basin in perspective. Saying we are the fourth largest country in Europe puts it into perspective.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised the possibility of linkages between na hollsoileanna i Mheiriceá agus na ceantair Gaeltachta i gConamara. If there are potential linkages which the Senator feels we as a Department can explore, we will sit down with him and look at those possibilities.
In terms of geothermal and geoscience technologies, we are all on the same page when looking at potential alternative sources of energy and not just relying on a few different sources. There has been a lot of research into tidal and geothermal energies. If my Department officials can add to the conversation, I think that would be helpful.
The possibility of a State-owned petroleum company was also mentioned. For the record, it is suggested in the Wood Mackenzie report that at some stage we would look at the possibility of having a State-owned company. I do not think we are at that stage yet. In terms of the development stage, we have had four successes. Are we at a stage, as a nation, to invest perhaps €100 million on a drill which might not be successful? In terms of the developmental stage and our current position, we are going in the right direction and, at some point in the future, the suggestion in the Wood Mackenzie report should be considered.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised his concerns on fracking and I have dealt with those. Senator Whelan asked how geography, science, the geological surveys and all the different information that we collate feeds into decisions? That is a legitimate question. For example, if we look at the mistakes in building houses on flood plains, we must ask was the appropriate information available? It probably was not. Is the information available now? A lot of the information from the GSI research will be invaluable in terms of building houses on flood plains, which has been a disaster for many people.
On the connection between our history as a people and landscape, I am finding out more and more about my local area while on my own journey re-learning Irish. There are Irish placenames with connotations or references to flood plains.
If we had that knowledge even through language, we would not have built those houses in the first place. The Senator raised a legitimate question about information not being used in the proper context. He also asked how all this information feeds into the decision and into local authorities, what happens when it goes to An Bord Pleanála and what information the board uses. The work going on in my Department and the resources available to us through the Tellus project will be key to decisions local authorities will have to make. It will also be key to have the OPW involved.
I have covered the Senator's concerns regarding fracking. There are fears around timelines. I was prompted by him to put on record that ongoing engagement is needed. I am sure he will avail of the opportunity in the new year. At some stage in the new year, I will seek to examine what has been happening and what has been found through the EPA research. I will demand that we have an opportunity in both Houses to continue the debate because there are concerns. Once I took up this post in the middle of the summer, there was a debate about my Gaeltacht portfolio but people in counties Leitrim, Sligo, Fermanagh and Cavan did not overlook the fact that I have responsibility for this area. I will, therefore, ensure the conversation continues.
Senator Kelly also asked about EirGrid and surveys in the context of subsidence within distances of between 40 and 50 miles. I will seek the information on that because that comes under the auspices of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. If surveys on subsidence have been conducted in the context of EirGrid developments, I will check that out. The Senator also referred to focusing on wind and not on other forms of energy. A conversation has taken place over the past number of years about moving into one area or another but we need a mix. There is no single quick fix to the country's energy needs. I have a keen interest in the ongoing work and research on tidal and wave energy but, at the same time, we must consider a mixed basket in order that we do not become too reliant on one energy form or another.
Senator Brennan referred to the information I provided regarding GDP and how much of a benefit this is to the economy. Since I took up this job, I have learned about the benefit to the economy of the likes of Navan Mines. It is the largest zinc producer in Europe. Perhaps we are not getting that message out. Navan Mines contributes 2.2% of the world's zinc production and 0.8% of the world's lead production. It is massive and I would like to acknowledge all the people involved in all the companies engaged in lead and zinc extraction. There is momentum in the industry. There are 634 prospecting licences. The message from my Department is there is an enthusiasm in this regard. Ireland is open for business in terms of lead and zinc extraction.
The Senator also alluded to the Tellus project and its benefits as well as his concerns about fracking. He will no doubt keep on my toes to ensure we have a debate in 2015 in both Houses on where we are in the context of the research.
At one stage, Ireland was the fourth largest country in Europe, which is phenomenal. When I met people from Newfoundland over the past number of weeks, they pointed out they are interested in the west of Ireland because during Pangaea, we were all locked together. They are coming across the same tectonic patterns and they are sharing information. As the Senator said, all the research and information GSI is getting from Tellus is publicly available. Schools and business can access it and it is available to Government, which is beneficial.
Gabhaim buíochas arís leis an Seanad as ucht cuireadh a thabhairt dom teacht anseo. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis an díospóireacht mhaith a bhí againn um thráthnóna. Tá suim mhór agam sa cheangal atá ann idir an mheánscoil agus an bunscoil. Tá daoine sa Roinn Cumarsáide, Fuinnimh agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha ag obair ar an ábhar seo. Mar focal scoir, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le mo chuid oifigigh - mo chomhghleacaithe - sa Roinn sin. Tá iarrachtaí móra á dhéanamh acu leis an Ghaeilge a chur chun tosaigh. Ba mhaith liom arís mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach arís.