Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Cover of the report

Cover of the JRC Scientific report: Unconventional Gas: Potential Energy Market Impacts in the European Union© EU, 2012

Commission studies impact of shale gas on markets, environment and climate


A JRC report on market impacts of unconventional fossil fuels, in particular shale gas, was released today together with two other Commission reports covering environmental and climate change aspects. The study, performed for the Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy, shows that following extraction of unconventional gas in the US, greater supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have become available at global level, indirectly influencing EU gas prices. The study suggests that under a best case scenario, taking into account environmental considerations, future shale gas production in Europe could help the EU maintain its dependency on energy imports at around 60 % of its total energy needs. But the report also reveals the sometimes considerable uncertainty about recoverable volumes, technological developments, public acceptance and access to land and markets.

The report on environmental impacts shows that extracting shale gas generally imposes a larger environmental footprint than conventional gas development. Risks of surface and ground water contamination, water resource depletion, air and noise emissions, land take, disturbance to biodiversity and impacts related to traffic are deemed to be high in the case of cumulative projects. A considerable number of questions relating to legislation and regulation have been identified, implying the need for an appropriate framework to enable a sustainable shale gas extraction in Europe. The third report which examines climate impacts shows that shale gas produced in the EU causes more green house gas emissions than conventional natural gas produced in the EU, but – if well managed – less than imported gas from outside the EU.

Shale gas extraction has become a topical issue in Europe, attracting the interest of several market players and giving rise to a number of public concerns. The studies look at the potential effects of these fuels on energy markets, the potential climate impact of shale gas production, and the potential risks shale gas developments and associated hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") may present to human health and the environment.

The Commission remains neutral as regards Member States decisions' concerning their energy mix. It will oversee compliance with EU legal requirements, and ensure that an appropriate framework to enable sustainable shale gas extraction is in place. EU policy objectives towards a decarbonised and resource-efficient economy remain a key priority, together with EU commitments towards improving energy efficiency and further developing renewable energy sources.

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 Commission will hold discussions with Member States and will organise a public consultation with stakeholders.

 The studies can be accessed here.