New EU directive allows for EIA-free fracking

The new Directive 2014/52/EU “of 16 April 2014 amending Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment” has been welcomed by many environmental groups as a major step towards strengthening impact assessment legislation. It has however also attracted much criticism as hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new and environmentally detrimental technology for the extraction of shale gas, will eventually not be covered by the new legislation. 

Since the 9 October 2013 European Parliament vote adopting amendments to the proposed directive and calling for the inclusion of shale gas operations under mandatory environmental impact assessment, pressing lobbying, mostly behind the scenes, had targeted the Commission. Succumbing to the pressures, the European Commission finally issued a non-binding “Recommendation of 22 January 2014 on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing”. 

In a speech delivered at the Financial Times Global Energy Summit of October 2013, Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik had stated the intention of the Environment DG to set up a series of “robust and appropriate rules to accompany shale gas developments”.  “Looking across the EU as a whole, we came to the conclusion that there was a case for a set of common general principles and measures, much along the lines of the ones proposed in the Golden Rules of the International Energy Agency”, the Environment Commissioner concluded. Potočnik’s line of argumentation was in line with the decisions of the European Parliament: earlier that October, the Parliament had voted for mandatory EIA rules covering all fracking operations. According to the adopted text, “(23a)  The production thresholds laid down for crude oil and natural gas in Annex I to Directive 2011/92/EU do not take into account the specificity of daily production levels of non-conventional hydrocarbons, which are often highly variable and lower. Accordingly, despite their environmental impact, projects concerning such hydrocarbons are not subject to compulsory environmental impact assessment. In accordance with the precautionary principle, as called for by the European Parliament resolution of 21 November 2012 on the environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities, it would be appropriate to include non-conventional hydrocarbons (shale gas and oil, ‘tight gas, ’coal bed methane‘), defined according to their geological characteristics, in Annex I to Directive 2011/92/EU, regardless of the amount extracted, so that projects concerning such hydrocarbons are systematically made subject to environmental impact assessment”.

Two weeks before the European Council of 19-20 December 2013, David Cameron addressed EC President Jose Manuel Barroso in a letter stating his opposition to shale gas specific legislation: “I am not in favour of new legislation where the lengthy time-frames and significant uncertainty involved are major causes for concern. The industry in the UK has told us that new EU legislation would immediately delay imminent investment.”

According to a 2011 report by the European Commission’s DG for Internal Policies, “existing  mining  laws  in  Europe  and  related  regulations  affecting  mining  activities  do  not take  care  of  the  specific  aspects  of  hydraulic  fracturing.  There  are  major  differences between  mining  related  regulations  in  European  Member  States.  In  many  cases,  mining rights are privileged over citizens’ rights, and local political authorities often do not have an influence  on  possible  projects  or  mining  sites  as  these  are  granted  by  national  or  state governments and their authorities.” 

Since the start of the economic downturn, now coupled by the Ukrainian crisis and the urge of the EU for independence from Russian gas, fracking is promoted by industry and many European governments as the “heavenly manna” that will satisfy energy poverty and offer energy security. 


Last modified onSaturday, 03 January 2015 13:46
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