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15 Jan, 2014 02:05

European Commission fails to introduce legally binding fracking regulations – report

European Commission fails to introduce legally binding fracking regulations – report

The European Union’s attempts to set legally binding regulations for shale gas extraction have been defeated after the UK and a number of EU states argued that current EU regulations are sufficient to keep fracking safe.

European Commission’s leaked draft documents, obtained by the Euractiv news service reveal that UK, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic opposed the creation of union-wide regulation of shale gas extraction techniques and methods.

Instead of adopting EU-wide regulations, according to the draft, the states will be asked to follow a number of non-binding “recommendations” covering a range of protective measures against water contamination and other hazardous environmental impacts.

EU nations engaged in fracking would be asked to present “scorecards” within six months, outlining which EU recommendations have been instigated. If such recommended practices fail to protect the environment, the commission will reconvene to set new legally binding standards in July 2015. The set guidelines wouldn’t interfere with a nation’s sovereign right to ban fracking.

Before any new drills could be allowed in any of the EU states, the document says, the EU would require environmental impact assessments and public consultation campaigns.

“A site should only be selected if the risk assessment conducted under this chapter demonstrates that no direct discharge of pollutants into groundwater will result from high volume hydraulic fracturing,” the document says, defining high volume as the injection of 1000 cubic meters or more of water per “frack.”

Any undertaking of extraction should be “constructed in a way which prevents possible surface leaks and spills to soil, water or air,” while water flows and methane emissions should be tracked and captured by “specific infrastructure,” the draft states.

Companies contracted for shale gas extractions will be obliged to monitor the make-up of the fracturing fluid at each site as well as the volume of water used and pressure utilized during extraction. Firms are also asked to monitor any of the fluids that surface during the process.

European Commission is set to unveil recommendations on shale gas extraction on January 22, and plans to review implementation of guidelines in July 2015. If not satisfied, the commission may consider making them legally binding.

The proposal of voluntary guidelines is a triumph for industrialist groups and governments of Poland and the UK who are leading shale drilling in Europe. It’s also a major defeat for environmental protection groups such as the Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth who were lobbying for creation of EU-wide laws.

“Existing EU legislation and national laws already cover shale-gas operations in a comprehensive way,”
said Alessandro Torello, a spokesman for the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers in Europe.

“This is obviously a very disappointing and alarming proposal,” Antoine Simon, shale-gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe was quoted by Bloomberg News. It “ignores the studies the commission published and fails to protect Europe’s citizens from the health and environmental risks of unconventional and dirty fossil fuels.”

“I think it is sad that the European Commissioners are protecting the interests of a handful of fossil fuel companies rather than the interests of Europe’s citizens,” the Green MEP Claude Turmes told EurActiv.

The EU proposals have “nothing in the way of real protection for the thousands of ordinary people who will see their lives and local areas turned upside down if the fracking industry gets its way,” Lawrence Carter, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace in London, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

A climate and anti-fracking protester holds a "Fracking kills" placard as he stands outside the test drill site operated by British energy firm Cuadrilla Resources in Balcombe, southern England (AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

“This is likely to be only the beginning,” Caroline May, head of safety and environment at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP in London was quoted by Businessweek. “The difficulties for the regulators are the political differences across member states and the differing reserves, which mean that some countries can ‘afford’ to have no policy or to protest, whereas for others like the UK there is a real resource as well as financial imperative.”

London is proposing tax breaks and other financial perks to its shale industry. Prime Minister David Cameron has been campaigning for local authorities to approve shale developments offering millions of pounds to develop new jobs and attract investment.

In December, Cameron wrote a letter to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the EC, saying it was “essential the EU minimise the regulatory burdens and costs on industry and domestic bill payers by not creating uncertainty or introducing new legislation.” The shale gas industry in the UK “has told us that new EU legislation would delay imminent investment,” Cameron added.

On Tuesday, Cameron defended his stance on shale gas before the Commons Liaison Committee calling opponents “irrational” and “religiously opposed” who “can’t bear the thought of another carbon-based fuel.”

Cameron said that fracking is a “real opportunity” for UK to tackle gas shortages in the future. The PM also stressed that he is in favor of “cash payments to householders” directly affected by fracking, saying that the industry already pledged £100,000 per site in “community benefits,” and up to 1% of revenues from extraction. Fracking, Cameron estimates would provide up to 74,000 jobs and generate £3.5 billion of investment.

But not everyone in the UK is pleased with the European Commission’s decision of voluntary guidelines, as maps published by the government in December revealed that over 60 percent of the UK’s topography could be available for fracking licenses.

Keith Taylor, the Green party MEP from Sussex said that the UK government “may be pleased with this result but those living near shale gas reserves will be very worried,” as quoted by the Guardian.

Tom Greatrex, shadow energy minister, told the publication that the leaked documents “demonstrate that Cameron sees regulation as an inhibitor of activity rather than a safeguard".

“By taking such a cavalier stance, he is likely to entrench opposition to fracking rather than taking the responsible approach of ensuring robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring to address the legitimate environmental concerns many people have,” Greatrex added.