EU issues framework for shale gas exploitation

Jan 22, 2014
The site where energy company IGas has permission to carry out exploratory drilling for shale gas, at Barton Moss in Manchester, pictured on January 13, 2014

The European Commission issued Wednesday recommendations to ensure that clear environmental safeguards are in place when the controversial technique of "fracking" is used to tap shale gas reserves.

With a number of European countries looking to begin drilling for , the Commission is responding to calls for "minimum principles ... to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need," said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

Fracking involves the injection of chemicals and water under very high pressure to fracture shale rock formations deep underground and so release the gas and oil they contain, but there have been concerns the process can pollute water supplies and the soil.

Widely used in the United States, fracking has been heralded as an "energy revolution", helping put the economy back on track with US companies benefiting from much cheaper energy prices.

Several EU countries have begun to explore for shale gas, and while none have yet begun commercial exploitation using , led by Britain they have called for the EU to adopt light-touch regulation on shale gas.

Others, like France which has banned use of the technique, are concerned about its potential .

The Commission's recommendations include the careful assessments of the environmental impact and risks of shale gas projects, informing the public about which chemicals are used, insuring industry best practices are used, and the close monitoring of water, soil and air quality.

While non-binding, the Commission urged the 28 member states to implement them within six months.

The Commission added it would require they report annually about what shale gas measures have been put in place and prepare a scoreboard on the situation in each country.

The recommendations are part of a wider initiative by the Commission to create an integrated climate and energy policy framework for the period up to 2030.

Explore further: EU wants common rules for shale gas 'fracking'

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