Ensuring the environmental integrity of unconventional hydrocarbons extraction is the Commission's overriding concern. This is a matter of ensuring that health and environmental risks that may arise from individual projects and cumulative developments are managed adequately.
This work is in line with the European Council's call to assess Europe's potential for sustainable extraction and use of conventional and unconventional (shale gas and oil shale) fossil fuel resources in order to further enhance Europe's security of supply (Council Conclusions of 4 February 2011). It is also addressing the call by the European Parliament to introduce an EU-wide risk management framework for unconventional fossil fuels exploration and extraction, with a view to ensuring that harmonised provisions for the protection of human health and the environment apply across all Member States (Resolution of 21 November 2012).
A legal assessment conducted by the Commission in 2011 concluded that the existing EU environmental legislation applies to practices required for unconventional gas 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.
As part of its information gathering process, the Commission released three studies on shale gas (see also Press Release here). The study on potential risks for the environment identifies a number of specific risks associated with shale gas extraction and raises several questions relating to the applicable EU legislation which require further consideration by the Commission.
Building on this work, the Commission included in its 2013 Work Programme an 'Environmental, Climate and Energy Assessment Framework to Enable Safe and Secure Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction' as new initiative (subject to an Impact Assessment). This initiative will aim at delivering a framework to manage risks, address regulatory shortcomings and provide maximum legal clarity and predictability to both market operators and citizens across the EU. An Impact Assessment will look at options to prevent, reduce and manage surface and subsurface risks, to adapt monitoring, reporting and transparency requirements, and to clarify the EU regulatory framework with regard to both exploration and extraction activities. Complementary studies were launched by the Commission, which will provide further socio-economic and legal support in the frame of this exercise.
Discussions will be pursued as well with competent national authorities. An on-line stakeholders' consultation has been launched at the end of 2012 and was closed on 23rd March 2013. The results are available here. A stakeholder conference was organised on 7 June 2013 in Brussels.