In retreat from its initial position and disregarding the European Parliament’s vote for the inclusion of shale gas operations under mandatory EIA rules (CrisisWatch 21), the European Commission will only be proposing a set of ‘soft’ recommendations for this environmentally hazardous hydrocarbon extraction technique.
At present, EU legislation on environmental impact assessment applies to natural gas extraction of at least 500,000 m3 daily. Given that shale gas is trapped in rock formations, most extractive operations result in much smaller daily quantities. Hence, fracking operations in many member states would fall out of the scope of the environmental impact assessment legislation.
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 ofen do not have an influence on possible projects or mining sites as these are granted by national or state governments and their authorities.”
The obsession of many crisis-stricken EU states with oil and gas is in many cases resulting in undermining the legislation in place. In Italy, the Ministry for Economic Development is in the process of transposing the Directive on safety of offshore oil and gas operations (2013/30/EU), but ignores the requirement for independence of the competent authority from “policies, regulatory decisions or other considerations unrelated to its duties under this Directive” (art. 9). According to WWF Italy, the only suitable entity to undertake this important duty is the Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (ISPRA).