MEPs to back mandatory audits for shale exploration
By Benjamin Fox
The European Parliament is Wednesday (9 October) set to say that all plans to explore shale gas drilling will have to undergo audits to assess their environmental impacts.
The vote is part of a revision of the EU's 28-year-old rules on environmental impact assessments.
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Under the plan drafted by Andrea Zanoni, an Italian liberal MEP, and backed by the major political groups, all projects involving the exploration or exploitation of shale gas would be subject to an assessment.
For his part, Kriton Arsenis, a Greek centre-left deputy working on the file, stated that mandatory impact assessments were needed at both stages.
“We all know that when all these chemicals fall into the subterranean aquifier, the damage is done, whether in the research phase or in the exploration,” he said.
More controversial are plans to ensure that audit authorities are independent from developers and for corrective action and compensation to be levied if projects cause environmental harm.
MEPs are also set to scrap the European Commission's plans to establish a list of "accredited experts" to verify audits.
EU climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the commission would also propose new rules to deal specifically with shale gas.
“If and when European countries want to do shale it should be done on an environmentally friendly basis,” she told MEPs on Tuesday (8 October).
The commission included plans to regulate shale gas as part of its 2013 work programme and still hopes to table the legislation before the end of the year.
However, with the European elections in Spring 2014, it is unlikely the bill will be passed in the current parliamentary term.
An EU official told this website that the proposal is still at the internal working stage and has not even been circulated to other departments in the commission.
The commission proposal is expected to look at ways to combat surface and subsurface risks, and harmonise monitoring and reporting requirements.
Critics of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which involves the blasting of large quantities of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations hundreds of metres underground, say that the process can cause earthquakes and damages the water supply.
Although the United States has seen a boom in shale gas production in recent years, with gas prices falling and generating and yielding estimated 1 percent boost in GDP, there has been little movement on drilling in Europe.
A handful of countries, including Denmark, Poland and the UK, have given approval for drilling to take place.
But Bulgaria, France and Germany have imposed a ban on fracking for now.