Fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal are non-renewable resources that account for around three quarters of the energy consumption in the EU. They are used for the generation of electricity and heat, the powering of transport, and as materials in certain industrial processes.
EU countries control the fossil fuel reserves such as oil found in their territories. They are also responsible for licensing the exploitation of these resources. In order to ensure that these licenses are granted in a way that is fair and transparent, national governments are obliged to follow a common set of rules. These rules are laid out in the EU's Prospection, Exploration, and Production of Hydrocarbon Directive.
The EU is the world's second largest producer of petroleum products. It has an oil refining capacity of 16% of the world total. To discuss regulatory proposals affecting oil refining, the European Commission organises the biannual EU Refining Forum.
Emergency oil stocks
The Oil Stocks Directive requires EU countries to maintain emergency stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products, to be used in the event of disruptions to supplies.
Offshore oil and gas safety
Accidents at offshore oil and gas installations such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico can cause large scale environmental harm, inflict serious economic damage, and even result in the loss of life. Furthermore, an accident in one country can easily affect others, making common rules for offshore oil and gas safety necessary.
To help prevent offshore accidents from happening and to ensure the proper response if they do, the EU adopted the Safety of Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Directive in 2013. This Directive mandates that the safety of offshore installations is vigorously checked before they go into operation.
Coal and the way forward
While the Commission is committed to a long-term vision of decarbonisation, coal and gas remain key components in the fuel mix of many EU countries, and conventional thermal generation from fuels such as coal and gas accounts for over half of the EU's electricity needs. As part of efforts to reduce the EU’s carbon emissions significantly, the Commission has established the 'EU Platform on Coal Regions in Transition' to advance the economic and technological transformation of coal mining regions.
Moreover, because a significant amount of power plants and industrial processes will continue to use fossil fuels in the medium term, this platform will also look at ways of improving air quality and reducing emissions. For example, the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help in removing CO2 from the atmosphere by capturing it from emissions and storing it in suitable underground geological formations.
Shale gas and other unconventional hydrocarbons
Unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas could contribute to the EU's security of supply and competitiveness. However, there are public concerns over their extraction. The EU is working to ensure that the extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing is done with proper environmental and climate safeguards.