EU wants common rules for shale gas 'fracking'

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Commission wants EU member states to accept common environment and health rules if they use controversial 'fracking' to develop shale gas resources.

A document prepared for the Commission's 2030 Energy and Climate Package due Wednesday recognises the importance of the shale gas revolution, which has driven US gas prices down sharply, but also recommends strong regulation.

"Experts agree that shale gas extraction leads to higher cumulative environmental risks and impacts compared to conventional gas extraction," said the draft document, seen by AFP on Friday.

If such "environmental and health risks, lack of transparency and legal uncertainties remain unaddressed, public concerns will persist," it said.

Accordingly, it recommended a series of measures the 28 EU member states to follow if they wanted to develop shale gas. For example, they should "ensure that a strategic environmental assessment is carried out" before project approval, to gauge the risk to other surface and underground resources, such as water supplies.

The public should also be "informed of chemicals used in fracking on a well by well basis, waste water composition, baseline data and monitoring results," it said.

Environmental reporting should be transparent, it added.

Fracking involves the injection of chemicals and water under very high pressure to fracture shale rock formations deep underground and so release the gas and oil they contain. Widely used in the United States, it has been heralded as an "energy revolution", helping put the US economy back on track with US companies benefitting from much cheaper energy prices than their international competitors.

That has sparked calls, notably from Britain, for the EU to adopt light-touch regulation on shale gas but others such as France oppose fracking given the environmental concerns.

The Commission package due next week will replace its current programme which lays down a target for a 20 per cent reduction compared with 1990 levels in carbon dioxide emissions, widely blamed for global warming, by 2020.

In addition, EU member states are supposed to source 20 per cent of their energy from renewable sources and achieve a 20 per cent energy efficiency gain by the same date.

The European Parliament's environmental committee wants a 40-30-40 package but this looks ambitious, with member states focused on getting a faltering economy back on track rather than add to business costs.

Against this backdrop, the future of shale gas is expected to be a major bone of contention in fixing the 2030 guidelines.