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Energy and environment

What's new ?

  • October 2014: Member States are invited to inform the Commission by the end of 2014 on measures they put in place in response to the Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing

Environmental Aspects on Unconventional Fossil Fuels

The risks associated with the high volume hydraulic fracturing technique, also commonly referred to as "fracking", have triggered concerns about public health and environmental effects. The Commission wants to ensure the environmental integrity of extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons, such as shale gas, and ensure that risks that may arise from individual projects and cumulative developments are managed adequately in Member States that wish to explore or exploit such resources.

The Commission responded to the calls for urgent action by adopting on 22 January 2014 a Recommendation, to contribute to bringing clarity and predictability to public authorities, market operators and citizens. It invites Member States to follow minimum principles when applying or adapting their legislation applicable to hydrocarbons exploration or production using high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The Recommendation is intended to complement EU existing legislation, covering issues such as strategic environmental assessments and planning, underground risk assessment, well integrity, baseline reporting and operational monitoring, capture of methane emissions, and disclosure of chemicals used in each well. The principles are expected to be made effective by the EU Member States within 6 months of their publication. Member States are also invited to inform the Commission annually about measures taken. The Recommendation includes a review clause to assess the effectiveness of this approach. The Commission will also consider the need to propose further legal clarification where necessary.

The Recommendation was accompanied by a Communication outlining the potential new opportunities and challenges stemming from shale gas extraction in Europe, as well as an Impact Assessment that examined the socio-economic and environmental impacts of various policy options.

Next steps:

  • Application of the Recommendation: Member States are invited to inform the Commission by the end of 2014 on measures they put in place in response to the Recommendation. Replies will be made publicly available and compiled in an overview table. They will also be taken into account by the Commission as part of the review of the effectiveness of the Recommendation scheduled in 2015.
  • Reference documents (BREFs): The Commission is currently reviewing the existing reference document on extractive waste, so as to cover the management of waste from hydrocarbon exploration and production. Beyond waste management, it is also initiating steps to develop an overall reference document on hydrocarbon exploration and production. These processes will involve representatives from Member States, industries concerned and non-governmental organisations promoting environmental protection.
  • Chemicals: The Commission will propose to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to make certain changes in the existing database of registered chemicals, so as to improve and facilitate the search of information on registered substances used for hydraulic fracturing purposes. This will be subject to a consultation with stakeholders.
  • Science and Technology network: a European Science and Technology Network on unconventional hydrocarbon extraction was launched on 8th July 2014. It will bring together practitioners from industry, research, academia as well as civil society. The network will collect, analyse and review results from exploration projects as well as assess the development of technologies used in unconventional gas and oil projects. 

Background

A legal assessment conducted by the Commission services in 2011 concluded that the existing EU environmental legislation applies to practices required for unconventional hydrocarbons exploration and production from planning to cessation. However, more information was deemed necessary to determine the adequacy of the existing EU regulatory framework to manage the identified risks.

Guidance was also provided by Commission services on the application of the EIA Directive (2011/92/EU) to projects related to the exploration and exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons.

Since 2012 the Commission has released a series of studies on unconventional fossil fuels, in particular shale gas, addressing especially potential energy market and climate impacts, potential risks for environment and human health, regulatory provisions applicable in selected Member States and the registration under REACH of certain substances potentially used in hydraulic fracturing. It has also used reports from academia, international organisations and studies conducted by Member States to underpin its analysis.

The Commission carried out an on-line stakeholder consultation concerning unconventional hydrocarbon (e.g shale gas) developments in the EU from December 2012 to March 2013. The results are available here. Most respondents asked for additional EU action. A stakeholder conference  was organised on 7 June 2013.