Will the EU obstruct the shale gas revolution?

Tomasz Brzeziński portal KierunekEnergetyka.pl / 16.04.2014

On January 22, 2014, the European Commission published the following documents in order to ensure the proper protection of the environment and climate from intensive hydraulic fracturing:

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high volume hydraulic fracturing in the EU ( COM (2014) 23 final)
Commission Recommendation of 22 January 2014 on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing
(2014/70 / EU)

In the body of the Communication, the Commission notes the high potential for shale gas production in the European Union. Although gas from shale formations, according to the Commission, is unable to provide the Union self-sufficiency in the supply of gas, it certainly can, at least partially, reduce the dependence of the EU on its imports. Potentially, shale gas may also lead to a moderate decrease or at least avoid an increase in gas prices, as well as strengthen the negotiating position over non-EU gas suppliers. The Communication also looks at the economic benefits for local communities and even the environmental benefits related to a lower emissivity of energy produced from gas in proportion to the energy produced compared to carbon intensive fossil fuels (subject to appropriate emission controls).

Above all, however, the Commission in its Communication focuses on the issues of environmental risks associated with the identification and extraction of gas from shale formations, in particular related to the contamination of groundwater and surface water from chemical substances contained in the fracturing fluid or leaking from the ground in the process of fracturing. In this context, the Commission emphasizes the need to communicate and address the risks and social concerns relating to the safety of shale gas extraction, and adopted a Recommendation laying down principles of operation to enable the extraction of gas from shale formations while protecting the climate and the environment.

The Recommendation invites Member States, when applying or adapting their legislation applicable to hydrocarbons involving high volume hydraulic fracturing, to ensure that:
– a strategic environmental assessment is carried out prior to granting licenses for hydrocarbon exploration and/or production;
– a site specific risk characterisation and assessment is carried out, related to both the underground and the surface, to determine whether an area is suitable for safe and secure exploration or production of hydrocarbons involving high volume hydraulic fracturing;
– baseline reporting (e.g. of water, air, seismicity) takes place, in order to provide a reference for subsequent monitoring or in case of an incident;
– the public is informed of the composition of the fluid used for hydraulic fracturing on a well by well basis as well as on waste water composition, baseline data and monitoring results. This is needed to ensure that the authorities and the general public have factual information on potential risks and their sources;
– the well is properly insulated from the surrounding geological formations, in particular to avoid contamination of groundwater;
– the application of best available techniques (BAT) for exploration and production, in order to prevent the occurrence of any threats.

According to paragraph 16.1 of the Recommendation, Member States having chosen to explore or exploit hydrocarbons using high-volume hydraulic fracturing are invited to give effect to the minimum principles set out in the Recommendation and to annually inform the Commission about the measures they put in place in response to the Recommendation.

The Commission will monitor the implementation of the Recommendation in order to improve transparency and as a comparison of the implementation of the recommendations in the Member States and will review the effectiveness of the Recommendation 18 months after its publication. The Commission shall submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council, and will decide whether it will be necessary to submit proposals. In this context, the Communication and Recommendation are potentially a prelude to future legislative initiatives undertaken at the level of the European Union, which may complicate the establishment of a sector involved in the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons from shale formations and thus slow down the pace of the “Polish shale revolution”.