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Potocnik on Shale Gas: A Mosaic of Different Legal Frameworks

The main challenges that have been pointed to concern notably water use, water pollution, air emissions, and the management of waste water. To reassure the public, all of these risks should be prevented, managed and reduced. As I already said, techniques and good practices exist; important parts of the necessary regulatory framework are in place. But our duty is to ensure that these techniques and practices are effectively used and that the regulatory framework provides adequate and effective safeguards of the environment and human health, asserted Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik at the European Economic Congress in Katowice/Poland […]


Prospection or exploration licenses have been granted or are in process of being granted in a number of Member States from Poland to the UK, Spain or Hungary. Romania has lifted recently its temporary moratorium. Production is expected as of 2015 in some Member States. At the same time, a number have reviewed or start revisiting their applicable framework, so as to facilitate shale gas production and ensure that specific risks are duly covered.

This is the case for instance of the UK which has introduced specific rules as regard the monitoring of induced seismicity. Several countrieshave decided or envisage to impose a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment for both exploration and exploitation activities. Other Member States introduced temporary moratoria or enacted legal bans on the use of hydraulic fracturing.

These various national initiatives that flourish may ultimately lead to a mosaic of different legal frameworks/interpretations. All of this can affect what companies and investors need most, i.e. a level playing field and a clear and predictable framework.

Indeed, the oil and gas industry naturally wishes to continue exploring for shale gas and to start exploiting it. But it faces significant public acceptability issues in a number of countries, issues which have been taken up at EU level by the European Parliament. Public and private actors are therefore looking into ways to increase public trust. Ensuring public participation and transparency in the process will be essential to that end.

It is not for the Commission to decide whether shale gas should be exploited or not. The Treaty is quite clear: Member States are responsible for deciding on their energy mix. But they have to ensure that this is done in line with the environmental rules that apply, so as to ensure protection of the environment and human health.

The Commission’s role is to ensure that the rules of the game are clear and predictable for operators and authorities across Europe, while providing reassurance to the general public that appropriate climate and environmental safeguards are in place.

These are the reasons why the Commission undertakes this year an EU level assessment of the environmental, climate and energy aspects of shale gas with a view to enable its safe and secure extraction. I am working closely with Gunther Oettinger and Connie Hedegaard on the details. This assessment is on-going and, if all goes well, is due to be released by the end of this year.

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