Intense pressures by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and industry lobbies against specific environmental assessment legislation for shale gas have been crowned with success: the political agreement on the new environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive, a compromise agreement between the Permanent Representatives Committee and the European Parliament, does not include specific requirements for shale gas operations.
Two weeks before the European Council of 19-20 December, 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 timeframes 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.”
In October, the European Parliament had upheld the Commission’s view that shale gas operations should be subjected to a mandatory EIA framework, which would cover the specific environmental concerns arising from its extraction. According to the text adopted by the Parliament: "(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”.
In a speech delivered at the FT Global Shale Energy Summit on 21 October, Environment Commissioner stated that “..the existing EU legislative framework applies to shale gas, but does not necessarily fully address the specific impacts and risks associated with fracking as it was designed before the technology became widely available
The EU Commissioner also emphasised the overwhelming public opposition to shale gas: “It was highlighted in surveys the European Commission conducted a few months ago. Three quarters of the respondents said they would be worried if a shale gas project were to be located in their neighbourhood. Why? Because of the lack of adequate legislation and proper risk management. Respondents agreed that harmonised and consistent approaches to the management of unconventional fossil fuels should be developed in the EU. They called for the need for public information. “Doing nothing at EU level” was the least favoured policy option by the majority of respondents.”
The future of the proposal that will be drafted by the Commission now lies in the hands of the Greek Presidency. Greece’s environment and energy minister Yiannis Maniatis has been a long-time proponent of fossil fuel exploitation, as a springboard for economic boost in the EU.