Brussels, 22 January 2014
Environment: European Commission recommends minimum principles for shale gas
Today the European Commission adopted a Recommendation aiming to ensure that proper environmental and climate safeguards are in place for “fracking” – the high-volume hydraulic fracturing technique used notably in shale gas operations. The Recommendation should help all Member States wishing to use this practice address health and environmental risks and improve transparency for citizens. It also lays the ground for a level playing field for industry and establishes a clearer framework for investors.
The Recommendation is accompanied by a Communication that considers the opportunities and challenges of using “fracking”, to extract hydrocarbons. Both documents are part of a wider initiative by the Commission to put in place an integrated climate and energy policy framework for the period up to 2030.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “Shale gas is raising hopes in some parts of Europe, but is also a source of public concern. 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.”
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.
EU Member States are invited to apply the principles within six months and, from December 2014 onwards, inform the Commission each year about measures that they have put in place. The Commission will monitor the application of the Recommendation with a publicly available scoreboard that will compare the situation in different Member States. It will review the effectiveness of this approach in 18 months.
Conventional natural gas is trapped in reservoirs underground. Shale gas is different – it too is a natural gas, but it is trapped inside rocks that have to be broken open (“fractured” or “fracked”) to release the gas. In the EU there is limited experience to date of high-volume hydraulic fracturing on a large scale and at high intensity. The practice involves injecting high volumes of water, sand and chemicals into a borehole to crack the rock and facilitate gas extraction. So far experience in Europe has been focused essentially on low volume hydraulic fracturing in some conventional and tight gas reservoirs, mostly in vertical wells, constituting only a small part of past EU oil and gas operations. Drawing on the North American experience where the high volume hydraulic fracturing has been broadly used, operators are now testing further this practice in the EU.
The environmental impacts and risks need to be managed appropriately. As more wells need to be drilled over a wider area to obtain the same amount of gas as in conventional wells, the cumulative impacts need to be properly assessed and mitigated.
Most EU environmental legislation precedes the practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. For this reason certain environmental aspects are not comprehensively addressed in current EU legislation. This has led to public concern and calls for EU action.
For more information:
The Communication and the Recommendation can be found at:
More details on climate and energy policy:
Audiovisual material, including a VNR on shale gas and an extensive B-roll, can be downloaded from tvlink.org
MEMO/14/42 : Q&A on shale gas