Interests of ‘dirty industries prevail’ over those of EU citizens, according to environmental NGOs.
Europe is effectively opening its doors to dirty and dangerous unconventional fossil fuels. Its legislators are turning a blind eye to the dangerous realities of shale gas expansion in Europe, and in doing so, failing to protect Europe’s citizens.
Two pieces of legislation – the European commission’s shale gas framework announced on January 22nd, and the proposed review of the Environmental impact assessment directive being voted in the European Parliament on the same day – demonstrate, beyond doubt, that European citizens can expect no help, or protection against the dangers of fracking, from Brussels. The interests of dirty industries have yet again prevailed over those of citizens.
Evidence on the ground in America, studies conducted by the European commission and the International energy agency, resolutions made by the European parliament, and polls conducted across Europe, all point to the need for legislative action – from improved monitoring and regulation of the shale gas industry, to an outright ban.
Instead, we’re seeing no legislative action whatsoever, and a repeat of the mistakes played out across America. In America they at least had no precedent to guide them; in Europe, this amounts to a blatant disregard of the precautionary principle, the benefits offered by hindsight, and to a certain degree, democratic processes.
Through a combination of corporate lobbying, and pressure from certain member states intent on exploiting their lands, shale gas regulation has been effectively fracked to pieces. The United Kingdom, Poland, and Romania have all played a leading role, with allies Hungary, Lithuania, and Czech Republic. The shale gas framework, proposed by the European commission, is now at best a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry – despite the best efforts of some decision-makers.
Over the road at the European parliament, the decision to exempt mandatory impact assessments for fracking – as part of a wider review of the Environmental impact assessment directive – means environmental impact assessments for shale gas projects will only be undertaken voluntarily by member states.
These assessments take into account the possible negative social and environmental impacts a proposed project may have, require mandatory baseline studies and ensure consultation with local populations. The exemption therefore allows shale gas developers to work without local consent, and without assessment of the impacts of fracking. Chevron’s current project in Pungesti, Romania, offers a stark example of the significance of this decision. Some member states have already expressed their lack of enthusiasm for assessments – in a continent with greater population density than the US we can expect to see more and more conflicts between local communities and gas companies.
The European institutions, and especially Jose Manuel Barroso, have failed to put the interests of Europe’s citizens at the core of their policy-making. Fracking will now go ahead in an unregulated fashion, and local communities, and constituencies, will be the ones who have to live with the disastrous consequences: water contamination, air pollution and an industrialisation of their regions. We can expect to see a surge in local resistance across Europe, like that witnessed in the UK, Romania and Poland, and an ever-increasing gap between the interests of citizens, and the policies of those whose job it should be to protect them.
Antoine Simon is shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, and Geert de Cock is a policy officer for Food & water Europe