Putting environmental requirements on any shale gas development

The German Energy Blog writes about the European Parliament pushing for strict environmental regulations if fracking is to go ahead.  No doubt the interest in fracking is such that better policies are certainly required.  The European  Commission is currently assessing the framework for shale gas production in the EU and may well consider appropriate regulation.  It is possible, but definitely not certain, that it could come out with a Communication on shale gas.  It is not an easy task since the Directorates for climate, energy and environment have to come to a common Commission position and they certainly must be looking at the topic from different perspectives.

European Parliament Wants All New Fracking Projects to Pass Environmental Impact Assessment

The European Parliament wants to make all exploration and hydraulic fracturing extraction activities for non-conventional hydrocarbons subject to environmental impact studies and amend existing EU legislation accordingly. Parliament also voted in favour of measures to prevent conflicts of interest and to ensure that the public is informed and consulted.

Despite the shale gas boom in the United States and the falling energy prices, MEPs remain concerned. “We are revising this key legislation to align it with Europe’s new priorities, such as soils, resource use and protecting biodiversity. Hydraulic fracturing raises concerns. We lay down clear criteria to avoid conflicts of interest and involve the public”, said lead MEP Andrea Zanoni (ALDE, IT). Mr Zanoni was granted a mandate, by 332 votes to 311 with 14 abstentions, to negotiate a first-reading agreement with EU ministers.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive applies to both public and private projects. It sets out certain criteria, including the information that must be submitted to national authorities for a project to be assessed for approval. The legislation covers a broad range of projects, ranging from bridges to intensive pig farms.

Natural gas projects are covered by EIA if at least 500,000 cubic metres are extracted each day. Many shale gas projects, however, yield less, due to the rock fracturing process, and hence are not subject to the impact assessment requirement, the European Parliament points out. MEPs want this requirement to be mandatory, whatever the quantity extracted, for all exploration and exploitation of non-conventional hydrocarbons (shale gas and oil, coal gas, etc.), including shale gas projects, for the phase in which the hydraulic fracturing technique is used.

The proposal put forward also includes measures aiming to prevent conflicts of interest between developers and people carrying out studies. MEPs’ amendments seek to ensure that experts have the necessary qualifications, experience and technical skills. They must be able to work in a scientifically objective fashion, independently of the developer or the public authorities themselves, the text says. Besides, MEPs proposed measures to ensure that the public is informed and consulted.

The amendment has to be adopted in the co-decision process, the ordinary legislative procedure under EU law, i.e. the European Council has to agree to it. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen.

In Germany the then ruling Conservative/Liberal government finally did not to agree on a bill to regulate fracking in June 2013. Hence a proposal agreed on by the Economics Ministry lead by Liberal Economics Minister Philipp Rösler and the Environment Ministry lead by Conservative Peter Altmaier in February 2013 was not submitted to parliament.

The proposal provided for strict conditions for fracking, making an environmental impact assessment and the involvement of the water authorities and agreement with them mandatory and outlawed fracking in drinking water protection areas. Yet the opposition called it still too lenient and members of the ruling CDU coalition partner also asked for still stricter conditions.

Hence for the time being fracking projects have to be approved by the competent mining authorities pursuant to existing mining law (for more information, please see the first blog post below).

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