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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.
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.