EU raises fresh concerns over environmental impact of Shale Gas, Series of major new reports increase prospect of EU level regulation to tackle Shale Gas risks

EU raises fresh concerns over environmental impact of Shale Gas, Series of major new reports increase prospect of EU level regulation to tackle Shale Gas risks by James Murray, September 10, 2012, Business Green
The chances of the European Union taking tough new action to regulate controversial Shale Gas projects received a major boost late last week, with the publication of three new in-depth reports that raised serious concerns about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is more commonly known. The EU-commissioned reports from the EU Joint Research Centreand environmental consultancy AEA assessed the risks shale gas projects pose to the environment and human health, their likely impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and their effect on gas markets and energy security. The reports argue that projections for the development of the shale gas industry in Europe are dogged by uncertainty, but they also warn that fracking presents a “high risk” to human health and the environment and as such the sector is badly under-regulated.

Finally, the report on the environmental impacts of fracking identifies eight areas in which the practice could pose a “high risk” to the environment, raising concerns over air pollution, ground water contamination and biodiversity impacts. “We’ve drawn together all the literature on shale and environmental risks in one place,” report co-author and AEA analyst Mark Broomfield toldBusinessGreen. … “One of the main issues is that the risks are cumulative as shale gas reserves can cover a very wide area. … Significantly, the reports raise questions over the legislative and regulatory framework governing shale gas projects in the EU, highlighting how legislative gaps could leave the sector under-regulated. Currently, there are no specific EU-level regulations governing shale gas projects in the same way that there are directives governing other forms of fossil fuel extraction.

However, the reports detail how shale gas projects could risk running foul of the existing Water Framework Directive and the Mining Waste Directive, and notes that projects are currently under no EU legal obligation to provide detailed Environmental Impact Assessments.

“The Studies published today will inform ongoing work examining the need for a risk management framework for shale gas developments in Europe and, if necessary, the form it might take,” the European Commission said in a statement. “Discussions will also be held with the Member States and a stakeholders’ (internet) consultation will be launched.”

Meanwhile, any attempt to introduce demanding new regulations is likely to face opposition from a number of member states. Most notably, Polish officials were quick to criticise the new EU reports, while a number of British ministers, including newly appointed environment secretary Owen Paterson, are understood to be opposed to measures that could slow the development of new shale gas projects.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said the government was continuing to take a cautious approach to new shale gas projects. “There are no fracking activities for shale gas anywhere in the UK at present,” he said. “Fracking remains suspended at Cuadrilla’s drilling sites near Blackpool while we consider the comments received on the independent report into seismic activity and the recent comprehensive report of the Royal Society into the risks of fracking for shale gas. “Current proposals are only for exploration, and it is too soon to predict the impacts of any possible future production. The Government has made clear that shale gas operations, if given the go-ahead, will have to meet the same high standards of safety and environmental protection as all other industries or forms of energy production.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: AEA: Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe 

Études de la Commission européenne sur les gaz de schiste: risques élevés pour l’environnement  ]

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