EU Lawmakers Divided On Approach to Take On Shale Gas

EU Lawmakers Divided On Approach to Take On Shale Gas

BRUSSELS - European lawmakers are deeply divided on how to deal with shale gas exploration in the European Union, two draft reports seen by Dow Jones Newswires showed Thursday.

The two reports--which are early versions of the positions on shale gas of two key parliamentary committees--show how lawmakers in charge of energy issues are much more enthusiastic about the potential development of shale gas in the EU than colleagues from the committee in charge of environment issues.

"Domestic production of shale gas will contribute to security of supply, bearing in mind member states' dependence on natural gas imports from third countries," the parliament's energy committee's draft report read. "Developing shale gas in the EU will help achieve the EU's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions" in the long term, it added.

While production of shale gas in the U.S. is changing the global natural gas market and has decreased the country's energy dependence, the issue is divisive in the EU. France and Bulgaria are the main opponents to its extraction because of environmental concerns. Others, led by Poland, are strongly in favor because they see it as a means of easing their dependence on imported gas, usually from Russia.

Members of the environment committee stressed the need for monitoring any development and the necessity to have appropriate laws to regulate shale gas exploration.

The committee "calls on national authorities to review existing state regulation on well construction for conventional fossil fuels and update those provisions covering the specific unconventional fossil fuel extraction," its draft report read.

These documents, which will become official in the next few months, don't have a binding value, but are important because parliament uses them to set its position on an issue about which it would have a say, in case binding legislation were to be proposed.

The European Commission, which has executive powers in the EU, has adopted a low profile on the issue.

Guenther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy, recently told Dow Jones that at the moment it is a good idea to leave the issue for discussion at national level, given the sharp divergences. He however added that personally he believes that "the qualifications of our engineers, the technology standards are able to avoid any dangerous environmental developments."

Shale gas is extracted by injecting large amounts of water mixed with chemicals underground, to crack the rocks that trap the gas and push it to the surface, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Opponents fear that the procedure could pollute drinking water sources and possibly create small earthquakes, while supporters say that the extraction operations are carried out deep underground and if done correctly pose no danger.

Exploratory drilling is taking place at more than 20 sites in the EU, half of which are in Poland.


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