In a June 11th vote on the new directive on environmental impact assessments, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee endorsed a proposal to include under mandatory EIA all shale gas operations. The adopted text includes provisions for strengthening of the quality of consultation with the public and accounting for the cumulative effects with other projects (which would end the practice of ‘salami-slicing’ into a multitude of smaller projects).
On a number of important issues, the MEPs did not approve the Commission’s proposal. The most notable of these is ‘scoping’, i.e. the specification at initial stages of the scope and detail of information to be included in the EIA. Whereas the Commission proposed that scoping be mandatory, the Environment Committee voted for optional application. Furthermore, whereas the Commission proposed that all assessments required under other legislation be incorporated into the EIA process, the MEPs also voted for optional application.
One of the noteworthy amendments endorsed by the Environment Committee strengthens the consultation process, by stating that “[t]he results of consultations and the information gathered pursuant to Articles 5, 6 and 7 shall be taken into consideration and assessed in detail in the development consent procedure.”
The approved text also provides for the inclusion of shale gas exploration and extraction operations in Annex I (mandatory EIA): ““14a. Exploration, evaluation and extraction of crude oil and/or natural gas trapped in gas-bearing strata of shale or in other sedimentary rock formations of equal or lesser permeability and porosity, regardless of the amount extracted. 14b. Exploration and extraction of natural gas from coal beds, regardless of the amount extracted.”
The common legislation on environmental impact assessments has been subjected to heavy and systematic criticism both by industry lobby groups, as well as by politicians from the EU, on claims that it hinders development in dire times of crisis (WWF’s CrisisWatch 10). Despite the fact that many of the amendments included in the Commission’s proposal essentially invigorate legal certainty in the environmental permitting process, industry lobbyists, such as BusinessEurope have lobbied against a number of proposed provisions (such as mandatory scoping and inclusion of shale gas operations under obligatory EIA).
The proposed amendments now await reading and voting at the Parliament.
Sources: Report on compromise and consolidated amendments, Committee on the Environment, Food and Water Europe, EEB, BusinessEurope, Public Health and Food Safety (Meeting of 10 July 2013), ENDS Europe.