Tuesday

24th Oct 2017

Opinion

We need an honest debate on shale gas

  • (Photo: Dustin Gray)

Shale gas has undoubtedly been a game-changer in the United States. Over recent decades, the rapid uptake of new innovations such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling has transformed the country from a gas importer to exporter. For years an accompanying debate has been raging in the US concerning the merits and demerits of shale gas.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union has been behind the curve. Only recently has talk of shale gas finally reached the ears of the European Parliament. The EP hosted a number of hearings on this issue in October and its industry (ITRE) and environment (ENVI) committees have now decided to draft separate own-initiative reports on shale gas. Regrettably, this development mirrors the current discussions on this new energy source only too closely.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Public debate on shale gas has become polarised. Advocates consider it a silver bullet ensuring energy independence, jobs and a more climate-friendly energy source; for opponents it is a poisoned chalice with massive environmental and social implications. Establishing a constructive dialogue between the two and finding a balanced perspective has become a Herculean task. Rather than bridging divides, too many commentaries these days pour fuel on the fire.

MEP Derk-Jan Eppink’s article (“A strategy for exploiting European shale gas resources”, 05 October 2011), unfortunately, also falls into this trap. Mr Eppink’s articles are always an interesting read; he is an argumentative, opinionated and independent-minded author. But in his piece on shale gas he disappoints, failing to adequately acknowledge the fears surrounding shale gas and overhyping its benefits.

Ridiculing environmentalists, he passes off concerns such as earthquakes and water pollution as “Luddite superstitions”. Relevant research, however, claims otherwise. A recent report commissioned by the energy company Cuadrilla Resources admitted that it was ‘highly probable’ that its fracking activity was the cause of the earthquakes earlier this year in the British county of Lancashire. Examples of water contamination by fluids contained in hydraulic fracturing have also been reported on numerous occasions. According to the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, in 2009 drinking water in several homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania was found to contain metals and methane gas. As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is undertaking a study examining the links between drinking water and hydraulic fracturing. Wastewater disposal standards for shale gas have also been lacking, with the Pennsylvania State Environment Agency stating that used water was increasing levels of bromides in at least two rivers in Pennsylvania. Another reason why the EPA has decided to regulate the wastewater discharged from shale gas production.

In this context, Mr Eppink was too quick to brush aside these concerns. His call for the European Commission and Parliament to develop an energy strategy that fully develops the EU’s shale gas resources “while still taking environmental concerns seriously” suggests he realises this to some extent. But this statement leaves the reader slightly puzzled. After all, which environmental concerns should be taken seriously when, by discrediting environmental concerns throughout his article, he essentially suggests there are none?

It is also important to note that the European Commission and Parliament have little leverage when it comes to pursuing an energy strategy that actually develops shale gas. Determining the energy mix is the prerogative of member states and tapping shale gas also falls under regional responsibilities. France, for instance, has put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing as has Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia. The European Commission and Parliament could, however, use the community method in the field of environmental policy to regulate shale gas. In this context, the former is finishing a study analysing whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient. What both EU institutions, however, should particularly be doing – besides their homework on the state of play regarding shale gas – is engaging in a dialogue with their constituencies.

The European Parliament has taken an important step by putting forward a pilot project on shale gas within the draft Budget 2012 that calls on the Commission to organise debates involving NGOs, industries and citizens throughout the EU on this subject. These must not become politicised. They should be organised by the European Commission representation offices and should include parliamentarians of different political colours.

The debate on shale gas is reaching hysterical proportions. It is high time to have a frank, open and honest debate that acknowledges both the merits and drawbacks of shale gas. This should bring perspectives together in order to lead to an adequate regulatory framework. The upcoming own-initiative reports in the environment and industry committees harbour the opportunity to bridge divides and cross aisles rather than polarise the debate even further.

Let’s hope the Parliament has, in Derk-Jan Eppink’s words, the “political maturity” to do so.

The writer is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and an Associate at the Berlin-based Stiftung Neue Verantwortung. He is the author of ‘Shale Fever: Replicating the US gas revolution in the EU?’ published by CEPS in June 2010.

A strategy for exploiting European shale gas resources

The EU has an opportunity to take a significant step in solving its energy problem and reaffirm its status as a major player in geopolitics. All it has to do, is embrace shale gas as part of the solution to its energy problem, advocates Dutch conservative MEP Derk Jan Eppink.

Interpol needs EU help to stop abuse

The international police agency needs powerful actors to support its work and its reforms, and the EU can and should provide a positive influence.

News in Brief

  1. Don't let City of London 'drift away', Luxembourg warns
  2. Far-right enters German parliament officially
  3. Orban declares migrant-free zone in Eastern Europe
  4. Madrid set to use force to stop Catalonia independence
  5. May: EU member states will not lose out with Brexit
  6. Slovakia pledges to be 'pro-European' oasis in region
  7. Report: Catalan leader to address Spanish senate
  8. Fiat-Chrysler 'obstructed justice' reports Le Monde

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreI Say Europe, You Say...? Interview With EU Commission VP Jyrki Katainen
  2. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  4. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  5. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  6. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  7. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  10. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  11. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  12. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  2. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  3. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  5. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  6. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  7. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  8. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  9. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation