Fracking lobby calls the tune on commission shale-gas panel
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.
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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