A discussion by energy ministers on unconventional oil and gas focused mainly on the transformative effect of north American shale gas on global energy.
Speaking after the meeting, Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, said ministers recognised that the boom in shale-gas extraction in the United States is a “game changer” which has had knock-on effects in all areas of energy.
Pat Rabbitte, Ireland's energy minister, said: “Europe cannot afford to put its head in the sand and ignore what has happened.” But he acknowledged that there is division between member states on the issue. Some countries, such as France and Bulgaria, have enacted moratoriums on shale-gas exploration, while others, including Poland and the UK, are moving ahead fast.
There has been huge public resistance to hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking', the process used to extract shale gas.
“I don't think anybody anticipates that merely because the technology of hydraulic fracturing has met with a relatively acquiescent population in the United States that that would necessarily happen in Europe,” Rabbitte said.
Oettinger said “more member states are open” to shale gas and the Commission is going to accompany this process by overseeing environmental concerns, namely through water legislation. The Commission issued a green paper with questions to member states on shale gas last month, and may come out with proposals by the end of the year.