The European Parliament will deliver a confusing message to member states on the issue of shale gas drilling when it adopts two contradictory reports on the issue this autumn.
On Tuesday (18 September), the Parliament's industry committee adopted a report concluding that shale gas has great potential to diversify the European Union's energy supply and lower emissions. A study carried out for the European Commission has shown that the use of shale gas would generate 29%-41% less emissions than coal. The report concludes that each member state should be able to choose whether to exploit shale gas, and that no EU action in the area is necessary at this time.
But a second report by the Parliament's environment committee adopted on Wednesday (19 September) urges caution to be exercised while health and environmental impacts are assessed. It says present EU regulations such as the environmental liability directive and the water framework directive need to be reviewed, extraction needs to be closely monitored and the responsibility for any damages needs to be placed on the industry.
“It's like yin and yang – two radically different points of view on the issue,” said Antoine Simon of campaign group Friends of the Earth Europe. “It won't make any sense to have two different reports from Parliament saying two radically different things. It sends a contradictory message to member states who want to know what to do with this thing.”
Because of the sensitivity of the subject, both committees wanted to have reports on the issue.
Friends of the Earth Europe today (20 September) issued a report on the dangers of ‘fracking' (hydraulic fracturing), which is the only way of extracting shale gas embedded in cracks deep below the Earth's surface. Campaigners are holding a “global day of action against fracking” on Saturday (22 September), demanding an immediate moratorium on the practice.
It is not yet known whether Europe has enough shale gas to be commercially viable. Oil companies are carrying out exploratory drilling in areas where large reserves may exist, such as Poland and Germany. Earlier this month, the Czech Republic became the latest member state to impose a moratorium, following France, Bulgaria and Romania.
Boguslaw Sonik, a Polish centre-right MEP who drafted the environment committee's report on the subject, has said that the concerns about shale-gas extraction, such as its potential to leak dangerous chemicals in water supply, are not supported by the facts. But his draft was largely rewritten by his fellow committee members. “Europe cannot turn its back on resources that can play a key role in diminishing the dependence on external energy supply and in reducing CO2 emissions,” he said on Wednesday after the vote.
A study for the Commission by a consultancy, AEA Technology, created a stir in August when it concluded that fracking does pose risks of surface and ground-water contamination. It found multiple gaps in EU and national legislation on shale gas. Simon accused the industry committee's report of ignoring this most recent study.
The Commission has said before that it sees no reason for new EU legislation beyond what already exists for conventional extraction, but a review is planned for 2013.