Monday

27th Mar 2017

Opinion

Fracking lobby calls the tune on commission shale-gas panel

  • Water pollution is one of the feared side-effects of fracking (Photo: Bijoy Mohan)

2015 is a big year for climate in Europe: the UN talks in Paris, this December; the implementation of the EU’s 2030 climate targets; mapping out the Energy Union.

Judging by the European Commission’s public statements, one would think the EU was firmly on its way to transforming our energy system towards efficient and renewable energy.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But in reality, its recently-established advisory group for the evaluation of shale gas development is opening the back door to this harmful and polluting technology across Europe, despite massive public opposition.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves the extraction of shale-gas from the ground using a pressurized liquid made of water, sand, and chemicals. It has disastrous consequences for public health and the environment - such as water contamination and air pollution - and can even trigger earthquakes. Scientists have said fracking is more damaging to the climate than coal-burning.

A 2013 European barometer survey found that 74 percent of Europeans would be concerned if a shale gas project came to their area, while only 9 percent of Europeans think that unconventional fossil fuel production should be prioritised, likely to do with the inherently destructive extraction technique called high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”.

Yet the commission has put in place a new industry-dominated advisory group called the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction. It’s tasked with assessing on-going projects across Europe, as well as the appropriateness of new technologies. The aim is to not just to assess them but to produce a “prioritisation of the most attractive” technologies. In short, to explore how fracking can be rolled out across Europe.

What makes this even more worrying is that the majority of non-European Commission members of the network either work directly for the fracking industry (40 percent) or have financial links with industry (33 percent), including academics and research institutions who have worked closely with industry on pro-facking studies.

Fewer than 10 percent of the members represent civil society, despite the commission’s aim to have a “fair and balanced exchange of ideas”.

It has also been revealed that many members, including Shell, Cuadrilla, Total, ExxonMobil and GDF Suez, successfully lobbied against stronger fracturing regulations and safety measures at the EU level, either directly or via their lobby groups (many of whom are also members).

In addition, the chairs of the working groups are all proponents of fracking, including the UK’s leading shale gas exploration company, Cudarilla.

The Polish chair, Grzegorz Pieńkowski, a member of the Polish Geological Institute, said in a recent interview with a gas industry journal that regulators “should not overdo it with these [environmental] concerns and impose new burdens that unnecessarily increase costs” and wants the group “to demonstrate the absence of environmental risks greater than those that appear in the case of conventional hydrocarbon exploitation.”

In short, the European Commission is putting the assessment of a highly damaging and dirty technology in the hands of a group where the majority of members not only have a clear financial stake (in the expansion of fracking and in particularly technology patents), but have lobbied against public interest regulations.

Such a blatant conflict of interest doesn’t just jeopardise public safety and the environment, it also lays bare the European Commission’s cosy relationship with the fracking industry, creating what amounts to a publicly-funded lobby vehicle for the shale gas industry.

Unfortunately the problem of industry domination within the commission’s advisory system is in no way limited to this network.

Last month revealed how the coal industry had equally succeeded in weakening regulations by capturing the relevant advisory group in the commission.

And a recent investigation by the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has shown widespread systemic industry bias, leading her to make far-reaching recommendations for reform, which the commission must respond to by 30 April.

If 2015 is really going to be the year that sets in motion an energy system transformation, as all the hyperbole from the commission suggests, then it needs to end the privileged access enjoyed by the dirty energy industry, beginning by scrapping this network.

Pascoe Sabido is a Researcher and Campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

Birthday wishes to the European Union

With the EU soon to celebrate its 60th birthday, there are still lingering questions about the bloc's future and whether there can be a change in fortune.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  2. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  3. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  4. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  6. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  7. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  8. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  10. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  11. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  12. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  2. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  3. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  5. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  6. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  8. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  9. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  10. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  12. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels