British protected areas at risk of fracking hell

New shale gas drilling licences covering 2,700 square kilometers of British countryside, large parts of which are protected as ecologically sensitive, are about to be issued by the Oil and Gas Authority. The West Country, the Isle of Wight and parts of the fragile Jurassic Coast of Dorset are amongst the protected areas where licences for fracking will be offered.

According to British PM David Cameron, his government is “going all out for shale”, which will offer the country’s strained economy “more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security”. According however to reports published by civil society groups, such as Friends of the Earth, the environmental, social and economic costs of hydraulic fracturing far outweigh its benefits to the oil giants now pressing for fast track licences.

On August 18th, the Oil & Gas Authority launched a consultation on its strategic plan-level Habitats Regulation Assessment of the licence blocks, a fast-track procedure which will cover the need for site-specific EIAs. The assessment checks whether the activities will have any “likely significant effects” (LSEs) on the habitats of the licence block, in which case a further detailed appropriate assessment will be undertaken, in accordance with art. 6.3 of the European Union’s Habitats Directive. Of the 159 blocks assessed for likely significant impacts, the authority concluded that 27 will have no LSEs, whereas 132 were subjected to a further appropriate assessment.

Local and international environmental groups are alarmed by the prospect of hydraulic fracturing operations for shale gas taking place within some of the country’s most treasured habitats and landscapes. As stated by Greenpeace’s head campaigner for energy Daisy Sands: “This is the starting gun on the fight for the future of our countryside. Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking. It seems clear that the government is responding to the vigorous lobbying from the fracking companies by ignoring both the economic and environmental evidence that clean, renewable energy is a far better bet for investment and the planet.”

According to Friends of the Earth, “new fracking rules interfere with local democracy”, as “local councils will no longer be able to protect their communities from dirty, dangerous fracking”.

Earlier in 2015, a broad alliance of environmental groups including WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth delivered a 267,000 strong petition urging PM David Cameron to reconsider his strong support to fracking.

 Read more: Friends of the Earth, The Guardian


Parliament of Greece approves oil & gas deals

On September 18th, the Parliament ratified three concession contracts for blocks between the Hellenic Republic and a) Energean Oil & Gas/Petra Petroleum, b) Energean Oil & Gas /Trajan Oil & Gas LTD, and c) Hellenic Petroleum / Edison / Petroceltic. The areas where hydrocarbon exploration and drilling has been approved are the onshore block of Ioannina, in the Region of Epirus, the offshore block of Patraikos, and Katakolo, in W. Peloponnese. Also ratified by parliamentary law was a fourth contract with Kavala Oil S.A./Energean Oil and Gas/Hellenic Petroleum S.A., which modifies a 1999 contract for the offshore area of the Thracian Sea. Despite the Minister’s expressed concerns about the possibility of shale gas extraction in Greece, on environmental grounds, the ratified contracts for onshore exploration do not exclude fracking. 


Will the new EU Commission aim for a brave green world?

The environmental failure of the outgoing Barroso Commission, most noticeably reflected in the “REFIT – fit for growth” initiative and the low ambition 2030 climate and energy package, has marred the EU’s profile as a global green leader. Will the Commission of 2014 show the necessary commitment to the sustainability pillar of the EU Treaty? That remains to be seen, as the newly appointed President, Jean Claude Juncker, lacks an environmental track record, yet he will have to lead the EU’s effective response to major environmental challenges. 

In his “five priorities” as candidate for the Commission’s presidency, Juncker makes no mention to policies on environment and resource efficiency. He does however set renewable energies as second priority, in a context of energy security and reduction of energy dependency from the East.

The new President’s stated priorities are in line with the conclusions of the June 26-27 EU Council, which constitute the strategic guidelines for the new Commission: emphasis is on security and justice, growth, REFIT, energy security of low climate ambition, and nothing on the environment and sustainable development.

“Juncker can hardly be worse than the last Commission president. He has recently made some positive statements – for example by positioning himself against nuclear energy and fracking – but we will judge him on his actions. We hope that he can help deliver the change that Europe needs to regain its global leadership role on the environment”, stated Frederic Thoma, Greenpeace’s EU energy policy adviser. 

The heated debates between the EU Heads of State and Government over the appointment of the next EC President monopolised the headlines and overshadowed the truly burning issue of Europe’s response to global warming: the 2030 climate and energy framework. The EU Council’s decision on this is a declaration of intent and postpones the real decisions to October 2014, after the UN Climate Summit. “While the political maneuverings around the choice of the next Commission President grab the headlines, the fact remains that this a complete diversion from the far more pressing climate and energy decisions that are now on the table and which matter far more to European citizens”, stated WWF’s European Policy Office Director Tony Long.  

Sources: J.C. Juncker, EU Council draft conclusions, WWF EU.



May 2014 editorial

The rise of euroscepticism, the growing power of parties with a weak environmental outlook, the low election turnout and the political focus of elections campaigns on rapid growth at all costs cause concerns about the future of the EU as a progressive environmental policy maker. The European Parliament in particular has on many occasions stood firm in support of crucial improvements in environmental law. One of the latest such examples was the new EIA Directive 2014/52/EU: the majority of MEPs supported the need for inclusion of shale gas projects under the scope of the directive, notwithstanding the fierce backstage opposition by dirty energy giants, the industry lobby and a group of pro-fracking governments led by the UK. The final outcome however, product of multiple rounds of negotiations between the Parliament and the Commission pushing for EIA-free fracking operations is exactly what the new lawmakers of the EU should resist: compromising environmental policy progress on the altar of short-term and short-sighted economic gains.

The environment has long been a rather popular field of policy-making for the EU. Opinion polls, even in the midst of the crisis, continue to show that a clear majority of Europe’s people favour strong environmental laws and green economic policies. As Tony Long aptly wrote: “Turning around voter antipathy to Europe will not be easy but at least if the opinion polls are to be believed, the environment is one of the last vestiges of Europe that is still popular and fairly close to people’s interests. … ¶…People care about the water they drink, the air they breathe, the food they eat and the nature that surrounds them. This is not environment as a middle class luxury. This is environment as a statement about values, and security and personal health. … ¶ … These are the kinds of policies and politicians we need to create a new positive story from Brussels. A story that sees environment and people again as the main protagonists. A new Europe for the planet is the prize.”

We sincerely hope you find this bulletin on the environmental dimensions of the crisis interesting and useful to your work.



Soft recommendations, but no rules for fracking…

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.

Subscribe to this RSS feed