EU 'invites' member states to apply set of 'minimum principles' to hydraulic fracturing

In response to intense lobbying from the British government, the European Union last month abandoned its plans to introduce legally-binding regulations on the fracking industry, and instead agreed to introduce a set of non-binding recommendations.

On Wednesday, the European Commission adopted these 'minimum principles,' in an effort to influence, at least to some extent, the impact of hyrdaulic fracturing on the environment and the climate.

The recommendations are meant to help member states address the health and environmental concerns associated with hyrdaulic fracturing. It's also meant to lay the ground for a "level playing field for the industry" and establish a "clearer framework for investors."

"Shale gas is raising hopes in some parts of Europe, but is also a source of public concern," Environment Commission Janez Potocnik said in a statement. "The Commission is responding to calls for action with minimum principles that Member States are invited to follow in order to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need."

The EU's minimum principles for shale gas: Building on existing EU legislation and complementing it where necessary, the Recommendation invites Member States in particular to:

  • Plan ahead of developments and evaluate possible cumulative effects before granting licences;
  • Carefully assess environmental impacts and risks;
  • Ensure that the integrity of the well is up to best practice standards;
  • Check the quality of the local water, air, soil before operations start, in order to monitor any changes and deal with emerging risks;
  • Control air emissions, including greenhouse gas emissions, by capturing the gases;
  • Inform the public about chemicals used in individual wells, and
  • >Ensure that operators apply best practices throughout the project.
  • The Commission will continue facilitating the exchange of information with Member States, industry and civil society organisations on the environmental performance of shale gas projects.

The EU hopes that member states will apply the principles withing six months and inform the Commission each year about the measures they have put in place.

Each member state has the right to decide whether or not to allow hydraulic fractruing, but the EU has been pushing hard for robust regulations on the industry, warning that "environmental impacts and risks do not respect national borders."

Meanwhile, advanced exploration is already underway in several EU countries, especially in the UK where Prime Minister David Cameron recently said his country is going "all out for shale" while introducing a series of tax breaks for councils that support the shale gas industry.

"It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country," Cameron said.

Other EU countries in the exploration stages are Denmark, Germany, Poland and Romania. As of yet, there is no commercial production of shale gas in Europe, though this could come as early as 2015 for Poland and the UK.

With the EU now officially backing away from any meaningful regulation of the industry, environmental activists are furious, with protesters gathering outside of the European Commission's branch in Dublin. But as of Wendesday evening there were no reported protests in Romania – Europe's most vocal opponent to fracking.