Europe Tightens Rules on Fracing

Europe Votes to Tighten Rules on Drilling Method – NYTimes.com 10/11/13 7:09 PM

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October 9, 2013

Europe Votes to Tighten Rules on Drilling Method

By JAMES KANTER
European Union lawmakers voted narrowly on Wednesday to force energy companies to carry out in-depth environmental audits before they deploy a technique known as fracking to recover natural gas from shale rock.

The technique involves shooting a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals under pressure into shale to break it up and release the gas. France has already banned the technique, also known as hydraulic fracturing. And it has produced protests in Britain.

The rules were narrowly approved by the European Parliament, which is meeting this week in Strasbourg, France, and still must undergo another round of voting in the Parliament once an agreement on final language is reached with European Union governments. Shale gas projects that do not use fracking would not be covered by the rules, which update environmental legislation in Europe.

Even so, the result is a setback for the shale-gas industry in Europe, where it is far less developed than in the United States and where many citizens are more concerned about the environmental impact of recovering the gas than about finding new sources of hydrocarbons as a way of combating stubbornly high energy prices.

Industry groups immediately condemned the result as more red tape for European business at a time when the Continent is seeking growth after five years of economic crises.

“In its current form, the proposed revision clearly goes against the trend to minimize the regulatory burden on business in order to facilitate the economic recovery and strengthen the competitiveness of our industrial core in the E.U.,” said Markus J. Beyrer, the director general of BusinessEurope, a powerful industry body based in Brussels.

Representatives of BusinessEurope said they were also concerned by new requirements in the draft rules to carry out assessments for preserving the natural environment before starting infrastructure projects like building airports and railways.

Europe Votes to Tighten Rules on Drilling Method – NYTimes.com 10/11/13 7:09 PM

But environmental groups and lawmakers praised the rules covering the gas sector.

“While this would not prevent permits from being granted, it would ensure a basic standard of assessment and public participation,” said Sandrine Bélier, a French member of the European Parliament who is the spokeswoman for the environment for the Greens, a political group. “This will help prevent risky shale gas projects being bulldozed through in spite of environmental concerns and public will,” she said.

Members cast 332 votes in favor of giving Andrea Zanoni, an Italian member of the Parliament from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, a mandate to negotiate a final deal with European Union governments over the final text of the fracking measure. There were 311 votes against, and 14 abstentions.

The rules would update legislation that requires environmental impact assessments only for natural gas projects that extract at least 500,000 cubic meters each day. Many shale projects yield less than that amount and some lawmakers wanted to tighten the rules.

The rules also would cover the exploration and exploitation of all nonconventional hydrocarbons, including coal and oil, when hydraulic fracturing technique is used.

Supporters of the shale-gas industry say it is an important new element in global energy supplies that can cut costs and lessen Western dependence, and the dependence of Eastern Europe, on supplies of natural gas from vendors like Russia. The supporters emphasize that the North American shale boom has already brought many benefits, including jobs and cheaper power.

But the concerns about shale gas exploitation in Europe run deep, particularly in some of the more populated parts of Europe including southern England, where the opposition to fracking has prompted protests. In addition to using significant amounts of water, the process may lead to leakages of significant amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to climate change.

According to the rules approved Wednesday, the shale gas and infrastructure projects would need audits based on “the direct and indirect significant effects” on human health, species and their habitats, land, water and climate.

The European Parliament voted in November on whether to ban fracking entirely. But that vote, part of a broader resolution on fracking, was rejected by 391 votes to 262, with 37 abstentions.

 

Europe Votes to Tighten Rules on Drilling Method – NYTimes.com 10/11/13 7:09 PM

The Parliament did, however, call for a “robust regulatory regime,” including requirements on companies to recycle as much water as possible and to disclose which chemicals are used. Parliament officials said on Wednesday that they expected the European Commission, the European Union executive agency, to make formal proposals soon.

Companies already make an environmental review in many cases before drilling a natural gas well. But the new rules would require a full environmental assessment to start fracturing in shale deposits, and the industry says some fracking in deposits is vital to assessing the potential of a well.

The rules would require “long and complex environmental studies at a very early stage in the exploration phase,” Roland Festor, the director of European Union affairs for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, which includes Chevron and Exxon Mobil, said in a statement. He said the audits would undermine efforts to develop domestic oil and gas supplies “without bringing additional environmental benefits.”

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