26th Oct 2016

MEPs' report casts doubt on EU shale revolution

  • Anti-shale demonstration in France, which put drilling on hold earlier this week (Photo: marcovdz)

MEPs on the European Parliament's environment committee have adopted a report highlighting the dangers of shale gas.

The vote on Wednesday (19 September) - by a whopping 63 against one with one abstention - sets the scene for a non-binding resolution on the issue in plenary in October or November.

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The report calls for a review of EU and national-level environmental laws related to shale exploitation and for "constant monitoring" of shale extraction activity.

It also calls for industry to pay for associated pollution and for disclosure of chemicals used in fracking - a technique for extracting gas from rock by blasting it with hydraulic fluid to create cracks and fissures.

"Before countries rush ahead with shale gas, we need to ensure that we have all the information about the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and also on the economic viability," British centre-left MEP Linda McAvan said after the vote.

"We want to make sure that any shale gas company which is looking to operate in the EU knows that they will have to meet the highest environmental standards," she added.

Polish centre-right MEP Boguslaw Sonik noted: "The main message of the report is that having a precautionary environmental approach, shale gas and shale oil are given an opportunity to prove their commercial profitability."

The environment committee paper comes after a more shale-friendly report by the industry and energy committee on Tuesday.

The industry committee text - which got through by 32 votes against 23 - says the EU should stay out of national energy policies and that shale will reduce energy dependency on third countries and lower C02 emissions.

The conflicting ideas come in the context of heavy lobbying on shale in Brussels.

The big energy companies lining up to take part in Europe's "shale revolution" - such as ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, OMV and Shell - note that EU countries are sitting on up to 14 trillion cubic metres of extractable shale, enough to meet their gas demand for almost 30 years without buying a drop from Russia.

With some of the biggest deposits in Poland and the Baltic states, Russia-wary EU governments also see shale as a way of undermining Moscow's political influence in the region.

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski often tweets links to pro-shale reports, while Polish diplomats see the hand of Russian gas firm Gazprom behind anti-shale studies published around the world.

Meanwhile, environmental groups such as Greenpeace say fracking contaminates water and soil and that shale investment will gobble resources from renewable alternatives.

Austria, France, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK have begun drilling for shale.

But France in recent days became the latest EU country to put operations on hold pending environmental analysis. Bulgaria, Romania and the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia have also bowed to pro-green protests to hold off on drilling for now.

The US began experimenting with shale in the 1980s. It currently accounts for 23 percent of US natural gas production but is predicted by the US government to account for 49 percent by 2035 and to lead to lower gas and oil prices around the world.

The head of the Paris-based International Energy Association, Fatih Birol, told press at an event in May that shale: "will [fracture] the role of the energy super powers with major geopolitical implications."


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