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.

Dec 25: A truly international Christmas

GEAI members and volunteers may be involved in the campaign against global warming but they certainly increased their carbon footprint this Christmas!  One of the surprising features of  GEAI is the number of members who are not originally from Ireland, and the number of local Leitrim people is definitely in the minority.   And, no more than our own Irish emigrants who came back to Ireland, our members travelled home (or at least out of Leitrim) at Christmas-time.  This week, members are back from Belgium, Portugal, Spain, UK (London) and Hungary.

What an eclectic group!  All have stories to tell and the stories about customs in different countries are fascinating.  Do you know that, in Ukraine, Christmas is hardly celebrated at all?  The real Ukrainian religious festival is on 6th January and marks the end of a 40-day fast.  The festival goes on for two days and gifts are given, no doubt in memory of the three Wise Men that came from the East.  Because today is 6th January, our Ukrainian volunteer Olga will prepare a traditional Ukrainian dinner to mark the day.  In Ireland, 6th January is Little Christmas or Nollag na mBan, so we will combine the two traditions by providing Irish hospitality in its truest form and celebrate in style!

How do we get off our Fossil Fuel addiction?

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

The following is an extract of the synopsis of the excellent book by Professor David McKay

We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%. And this is unsustainable for three reasons.

  • First, easily-accessible fossil fuels will at some point run out, so we’ll eventually have to get our energy from someplace else.
  • Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels.
  • Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply: continued rapid use of the North Sea oil and gas reserves will otherwise soon force fossil-addicted Britain to depend on imports.
How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction?

There’s no shortage of advice on how to “make a difference,” but the public is confused, uncertain whether these schemes are fixes or fig leaves. People are rightly suspicious when companies tell us that buying their “green” product means we’ve “done our bit.” They are equally uneasy about national energy strategy. Are “decentralization” and “combined heat and power,” green enough, for example? The government would have us think so. But would these technologies really discharge Britain’s duties regarding climate change? Are windfarms “merely a gesture to prove our leaders’ environmental credentials”? Is nuclear power essential?

We need a plan that adds up. The good news is that such plans can be made. The bad news is that implementing them will not be easy…

Download the full synopsis: Click here
Download the full book: Click here

David McKay is Professor of Physics, Cambridge University.

Europe abandons hopes of US-style shale gas revolution

Special Report 28th February 2014

Synopsis.  

Shale gas has had a “minimal impact” on the US’s manufacturing industry, and will have even less significance for Europe, according to a new report by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). In Europe, industrialists are abandoning hopes of a similar revolution, at least in the short- to medium-term.  [Download full Euractiv report here]

The IDDRI report’s findings echo a warning from the UK business minister, Vince Cable, earlier this month that shale gas will not be a reality for at least a decade.  “Shale is a possible long-term resource, but we do not yet know,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “I want to tell people to get realistic about it.”

According to the report by the Paris-based IDDRI think tank, the US shale boom has contributed to cheaper household energy prices and helped the competitiveness of gas-intensive manufacturing sectors such as plastics, petrochemicals and fertilisers.

But these sectors only account for about 1.2% of US GDP and 3.3% of all manufacturing, and IDDRI estimates the maximum long-term effect of shale gas on US GDP at around 0.84%.

“There is thus no evidence that shale gas is driving an overall manufacturing renaissance in the US,” the study says.

Shale gas could play a positive short-term role in helping Eastern European countries to wean themselves off imported fuel from Russia, and develop their own infrastructure.

But in terms of revitalising Europe’s manufacturing sector and economy as a whole, the report’s authors conclude that the shale gas effect would be “negligible”. By 2035, shale gas is estimated to be meeting no more than between 3-10% of EU gas demand.

“It is unlikely that the EU will repeat the US experience in terms of the scale of unconventional oil and gas production,” the report warns, citing uncertainties about the size of Europe’s shale deposits.

In the US, around 130 shale wells were drilled a month in the decade up tp 2010, compared to an all-in total of 50 exploratory shale drills in the EU so far.

Compared to the US, Europe’s energy service industry and rig counts are much smaller; its geology – and land access – are less accommodating; public acceptance is less of a given; urban density is far higher; and environmental regulations are more stringent. This, IDDRI say, would have a knock-on effect on the industry’s profitability here.

Download original report here

Water supplies threatened by fracking

World Heritage Site

Marble Arch Caves

Fermanagh, Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan water supplies threatened by fracking

On this week, when the EU Energy Ministers are discussing unconventional gas in Europe, and Tamboran are planning to drill a 1,000m deep exploratory well in Fermanagh, a new danger from fracking in Ireland has come to light.  The water supplies of Counties Fermanagh, North Leitrim, South Donegal, North Cavan, North Sligo and Sligo Town, and the World Heritage Site at Marble Arch Caves would be under threat if hydraulic fracturing is used to extract gas from shales. This is a conclusion reached by GEAI hydrogeologist, Davide Galazzi.

 “We are playing with fire.  The shale layer where Tamboran is planning to use hydraulic fracturing is packed like a sandwich between two major aquifers, Ballyshannon Limestones and Dartry Limestones, providing water to the above areas. The Dartry Limestones are also the rock embedding the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Marble Arch, the world-wide importance of which cannot be over- emphasised.”

He warned that these aquifers could become contaminated in the process.  “During hydraulic fracturing, which uses millions of gallons of frack fluid containing toxic chemicals at high pressure, fractures (or cracks) are created in the shale to release the gas.  These fractures can go in any direction, downwards as well as upwards, and nobody can forecast how far they will travel.

In a situation where there is a very short distance between the shale and the limestone layers, a distance which is far less than the minimum threshold (700m) recommended by recent studies from the UK, there is a high risk of this fluid being forced into those aquifers during hydraulic fracturing.

In addition, the fracking area is extremely close to the locations of water supplies and actually on the shores of Lough Erne and Lough Gill, which provide water to the whole of County Fermanagh, North Leitrim, Sligo Town and surrounding villages.  There is no guarantee that water contaminated with fracking chemicals, heavy metals and volatile petroleum products could not make its way to the areas from which drinking water is sourced.”

 “We are very alarmed at this finding, which concludes that there is a high risk of contamination of the sources of our drinking water from fracking”, said Aedín McLoughlin, GEAI Director.  “The Ballyshannon and Dartry limestones extend throughout most of the licensed area.   Without any barriers between the shale layer and the limestones, these Regionally Important Aquifers are endangered by hydraulic fracturing.  The EU Water Framework Directive says that ‘Water is not a commercial product like any other, but rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such’.  Where there is intense fracking, as is planned for Ireland, water contamination inevitably results.  We have a duty to our children and our children’s children to leave our surface and ground waters in as pure a state, or even better, than we find them.  Fracking must not be allowed to endanger that heritage.”

It is an offence to pollute groundwater under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts of 1977 and 1990.

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