An overview of fracking in the EU

European_flag

The European Union lacks a common policy on fracking. Some countries are convinced supporters while others have banned it for safety and environmental reasons. This disagreement between the member states prevented the passing of a Directive regulating shale gas exploitation, resulting in the European Commission being restricted to adopting certain “recommendations“.

Recently the European Parliament published a briefing document highlighting the fracking policies of the members states. There are three groups: those that support fracking, those against, and those that still don’t know if they support or not. The UK is a very particular case, because it lies on both sides of the divide.  The following summarises the report:

Countries supporting frackingiIPFxxAvBxys

England (UK).  The British Government is in a “dash for gas”, despite some of the governing coalition MPs supporting a ban on fracking due to its environmental and health impacts. During the parliamentary debate, the Government accepted a Labour amendment that banned fracking from 40% of the shale gas areas previously offered for exploration.

Northern Ireland (UK).  The Stormont Executive has issued four exploratory licences that include the possibility of fracking. Two of them are still active. Drilling is about to take place in Ballinlea, near the Giant’s Causeway, and in Carrickfergus, beside a water reservoir near Belfast. Another licence was terminated by the Government but it is still open for new companies to apply.

Poland. This country has the largest resources in Europe, according to the US Energy Information Authority. However, the first exploration wells have shown disappointing results, and prompted some operators e.g. Chevron and Exxon, to leave Poland.  New laws to facilitate fracking have been passed but in June 2014 the EU Commission “opened legal proceedings against Poland, on the grounds that the new law infringes the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive by allowing drilling at depths of up to 5000 metres without having assessed the potential environmental impact.”

Denmark. Despite being one the main promoter of renewable energies in Europe, Denmark approved exploratory drilling in 2014.

Spain. Spanish government supports shale gas development after putting a break on renewable energy development. Some of the regions have tried to ban fracking, but the Constitutional Court have declared that those moratoriums are unconstitutional.

Lithuania. The European Parliament report shows that this Baltic country “is the process of introducing “investor-friendly shale gas regulations”, but companies like Chevron “pulled out the country citing an uncertain legal framework”.

Romania. This country lifted an earlier ban in 2013 and is supportive of shale gas. The reports point out the “Chevron started exploratory drilling in  in May 2014”.

 

Countries against

Bulgaria. In January 2012 this country imposed a moratorium on fracking and revoked licences for shale gas exploration.

France. In 2013 French Constitutional Court upheld a ban on fracking approved two years before. France has some of the largest estimated shale gas reserves in Europe but President François Hollande has promised to maintain the ban on fracking as long as he is in office.

Scotland (UK). In January 2015 the Scottish Government called for a moratorium on fracking.  “This moratorium will continue until such time as the work I have set out to Parliament today, including a full public consultation and a full public heatlth impact assesment, is completed”, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said. Moreover, Scotland is expecting to get control over minerals rights in the enlargement of Home Rule promised after the independence referedum last year.

Wales (UK).  The Welsh Assembly called the Government to do “everything within its power to prevent fracking from taking place in Wales until it is proven to be safe in both an environmental and public health context.” The Welsh Government wants to achieve the same level of control over mineral rights as Scotland.

 

Maybe 

ireland-is-not-for-shale

Ireland. Our country declared a moratorium on fracking in 2012, when the Government decided not to issue any licences until the completion of a 2-years research program. Three licensing option were granted in 2010, but no decision will be made until 2017, when the research is finished.

Germany. The biggest European economy still doesn’t have a policy on fracking. The president of the Federal Environmental Agency said that “as long as there are no firm statements on the risks of this technology and how they can be controlled, there should be no fracking activity in Germany for the purpose of shale and coalbed gas extraction”. “But fracking has not been prohibited“, she remarked.

Netherlands. The European Parliament report points out that “shale gas exploration in the Netherlands gas been suspended, while a study to be completed in 2015 on its environmental and social effects is carried out.

64% of EU citizens against development of Shale Gas

   Irish Voice heard in Brussels meeting
The results of an EU on-line questionnaire on fracking were presented at a meeting on 7th June in Brussels, attended by Irish representatives of the campaign against fracking.  Almost 23,000 people responded to the questionnaire, a large majority of which agree on the lack of adequate legislation, the need for public information and the lack of public acceptance of unconventional fossil fuels (e.g. shale gas).  When the responses were weighted to reflect EU Member States’ population, they indicated that 64% of EU citizens thought that shale gas should not be developed in Europe at all.
Following presentation of the results, a broadly-based discussion of the environmental impacts of fracking took place.  The health impacts of fracking and the importance of applying the precautionary principle to proposals to frack were emphasised by the Irish representatives which included Dr Geralyn McCarron (Fermanagh), Geraldine Ring (Cork) and Dr Aedin McLoughlin (Leitrim).
[Image: Geralyn and Aedín with FOE outside Commission building]
Geralyn + Aedin in BrusselsDr McCarron spoke about the impacts of contamination from fracking on a rural community she has studied in Australia.  “There was a range of symptoms related to neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system), including severe fatigue, weakness, headaches, numbness and paraesthesia (pins and needles.  Almost all the children suffered from headaches and for over half of these the headaches were severe.   Other symptoms reported among the population included increases in cough, chest tightness, rashes, difficulty sleeping, joint pains, muscle pains and spasms, nausea and vomiting.”
Dr McCarron said that Health Impact Assessments, carried out with internationally recognised protocols, must be an integral part of every unconventional gas development proposal.
Aedín McLoughlin from GEAI  pointed out that throughout Europe, proposals for exploration included drilling and fracking in border areas (e.g. Leitrim/Fermanagh.   “Such exploration must not proceed without a common policy and regulatory framework between the two jurisdictions involved.  Water knows no borders and the areas targeted include the two major waterways of the  Shannon and Erne Rivers.”
She also stressed the importance of the precautionary principle and how it must be applied:  Proposals for on-shore unconventional gas exploration to be considered new plans or programmes by EU Member States and Strategic Environmental Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals as per  SEA Directive 2001; Health Impact Assessments to be carried out on all such proposals; and Environmental Impact Studies to be carried out on all stages of fracking, to include studies of the cumulative impacts of such developments.  “Finally, we consider that a Moratorium on unconventional gas exploration or extraction must be implemented in each Member State until such studies show that environmental degradation or adverse public health impacts will not result from such projects,” she concluded.
Geraldine Ring questioned the Commission’s proposal to develop a risk management framework. “Fracking carries with it risks, but also realities. One of these realities is the huge volume of flowback water and we know from the US, Canada and Australia that there is no best practice to treat it.” She asked how the Commission planned to deal with such realities.
She also referred to the gaps that have been already identified by the Commission in existing Directives.  “The current EU regulatory framework at both exploration and production phase has a number of gaps or potential gaps,” she said.  “A study published by the Commission in September of last year showed gaps in at least eight key environmental acquis, including the Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directive, the Mining Waste Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment directive which is currently under review.”
Aedín also visited the EU Parliament and had a discussion about the meeting with MEP Marian Harkin’s staff. Marian Harkin kindly sponsored her travel costs.

EU Parliament to start a public consultation on shale gas in 2013

Last month, at the European Parliament, the amendment “not to authorise any new hydraulic fracturing operations in the EU” was rejected. GEAI expressed its serious disappointment.
However, it is important to note that the same day, two important resolutions were adopted. Following the reports from the Environment and Industry committees, those texts call on the European Commission and the Member states to set up more “robust regulatory regimes”. For example one regulation states that “Special plans for water use should accompany any hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activities and as much water as possible should be recycled”.  Companies must disclose which chemicals are used, in order to comply with EU legislation, it adds, according to a press release from the European Parliament.
The Parliament also calls for further research, or “(…) to evaluate their legislation to see whether proper account is taken of this aspect, including the full application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention and the corresponding provisions in EU law; (…)“.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik has published this statement:
“(…) It is clear that the future development of shale gas will depend on the extent of public acceptance of fracking. Addressing health and environmental risks will be of paramount importance for the industry to gain broad public acceptance and a ‘public license to operate’ in Europe.
Our challenge is to make the right and balanced choices. Studies carried out indicate that there are a number of uncertainties or gaps in current EU legislation and the Commission intends to deliver next year a framework to manage risks, address regulatory shortcomings, and to provide maximum clarity and predictability to market operators and citizens across the EU.”
The Independent Irish MEP Marian Harkin warmly welcomed this statement.
She stated that, on her blog:
“The Commissioner has now committed to an impact assessment in 2013, part of which will be a very significant public consultation, which will give citizens an opportunity to make their views known.
Proposals from the Commission are expected in 2014. At last the EU Commission is taking responsibility for environmental concerns and that has to be good news. The Commissioner also agreed that the risks from fracking are greater than those from conventional gas exploration. This is an important first step in helping to ensure that the widespread environmental concerns surrounding the shale gas extraction process are at last being addressed by the EU”.
See below an editing of Irish and Northern Irish MEP’s speeches:
Complete text adopted
Please follow us on Twitter, where we publish one important call from the European Parliament per day.

New european Study by AEA

Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe. EA group, a global sustainability consultancy, were contracted by EU Commission to carry out a study on the potential risks of fracking and to look at EU legislation relevant to fracking and gaps in the legislation.  They come to the conclusion that there are several high risk areas associated with fracking, including risk of contamination of ground and surface water, land use and risk to biodiversity.  Several gaps in EU legislation are described and an overview is gtiven on possible approaches to improving regulatory and industry practice.
Please click here to download the study [pdf].

Environmental Aspects on Unconventional Fossil Fuels

EU- PARLIAMENT, The European Commission has recently added the following page to its site: Environmental Aspects on Unconventional Fossil Fuels
This gives an on-going account of all actions taken by the European Commission on the subject of Fracking and relevant regulation. It also gives important references and therefore is a valuable source of accurate information on the approach of the EU to hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction.

COPYRIGHT

® All rights reserved to GEAI 2018