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European Union: New Measures Adopted on Shale Gas Initiative

(Jan. 29, 2014) In January 2014, the European Commission put forward three measures to tackle the issue of hydrocarbon extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing. The Commission’s initiative was in response to calls for action raised by interested parties, the related industries, the public, and local and national authorities in a public consultation initiated by the Commission during the period of December 2012 to March 2013. (European Commission, Memo: Questions and Answers on the Shale Gas Initiative (Jan. 22, 2014) EUROPA.)

A number of European Union Member States are already engaged in hydraulic fracturing, while others are preparing to do so soon. As the Commission clarified, until now, hydraulic fracturing was limited to small-volume hydraulic fracturing in conventional and tight gas reservoirs, mostly in vertical wells. Tight gas reservoirs are “natural gas reservoirs locked in extraordinarily impermeable, hard rock, making the underground formation extremely ‘tight.'” (What Is Tight Gas, and How Is It Produced?, RIGZONE (last visited Jan. 29, 2014). The new measures are designed to establish minimum principles for shale gas exploration activities on a wider scale, as well as to assuage concerns expressed by the public on the use of this technology. (Memo: Questions and Answers on the Shale Gas Initiative, supra.)

The Commission adopted three key instruments to bring the issue to the forefront, raise public awareness, and provide some minimal rules for exploration:

  • a communication that analyzes the potential benefits stemming from shale gas exploration, such as energy security and revenue, and the adverse effects on the environment, especially air and water pollution;
  • a recommendation that establishes minimum standards for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons, complements EU legislation, and establishes certain environmental safeguards; and
  • an impact assessment that reviews the socio-economic impact of possible future actions, such as amendment of existing legislation, adoption of new legislation, or issuance of additional recommendations. (Id.)

The Commission urged the EU Members to implement the principles contained in the recommendation within six months following publication. The Commission intends to monitor compliance and make a “scoreboard” publicly available. (Id.)

Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said of the initiative:

Shale gas is raising hopes in some parts of Europe, but is also a source of public concern. The Commission is responding to calls for action with minimum principles that Member States are invited to follow in order to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need. (Press Release, IP/14/55, European Commission, Environment: European Commission Recommends Minimum Principles for Shale Gas (Jan. 22, 2014), EUROPA.)