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Brussels to draft shale gas rules by end of year

  • US scientist: 'The biggest problem with fracking is use of carcinogenic materials' (Photo: marcovdz)

The EU will draft rules for shale gas production by the end of 2013, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Tuesday (28 May).

Speaking during a debate with MEPs, Barroso said the framework would allow "the safe and secure extraction of shale gas in Europe."

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Energy prices in Europe are more than twice the levels in the US, while concerns over costs and energy dependence are particularly pressing for eastern European countries, which are reliant on Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Meanwhile, the recent emergence of vast supplies of natural shale gas in the US has radically altered the energy landscape.

The commission will ensure that "the rules of the game are the same, while providing reassurance to the public that environmental and health safeguards are in place," Barroso said.

He fended off accusations from Green group spokeswoman, Rebecca Harms, that a meeting of EU leaders last week saw a "paradigm shift" in EU energy policy away from environmental sustainability and climate change.

"The commission proudly stands by all it has its policies on climate change … we should not give up our leadership role on climate change," Barroso noted.

He added that: "If there is a shale gas revolution in the US we should have an energy efficiency revolution in the European Union."

The shale gas boom in the US is providing an annual 0.5 percent increase in total economic output as well as an estimated 3 million new jobs.

The American Natural Gas Alliance estimates that the US has a 200-year supply of recoverable natural gas.

However, there are concerns about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking," which is used to extract the gas.

Fracking involves the fracturing of rock layers using a mixture of water and chemicals, several of which cause cancer, in a well-bore hundreds of meters underground.

The process, which typically uses between 4 and 5 million gallons of water per well, allows natural gas to be extracted from the rock.

Around 35 percent of the water used in fracking comes back up to the surface.

Kent Moors, a Professor at Duquesne university in Pennsylvania, told EUobserver that "the single biggest problem with fracking is the use of carcinogenic materials."

Although France and Germany lead a group of EU countries that have a moratorium on fracking, other member states are preparing to start drilling more quickly.

The UK recently signalled its intention to begin drilling work in north-west England, while Poland and Romania have the most accessible shale gas deposits.

Climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard has been reluctant to support shall gas extraction.

But EU industry commissioner Gunther Oettinger has voiced strong support, while Anne Glover, the commission's chief scientific advisor, gave the green light in March.

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