European Commission Strives Toward Reasonable Shale-Gas Regulation

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Following years of deliberation, the European Union (EU) released a recommendation on unconventional hydrocarbons and a related communication in 2014. Although these documents are not legally binding on member states, they are nevertheless of great significance because they indicate, for the first time, the current and likely future stance of EU institutions on the regulation of unconventional hydrocarbons. This paper traces the origins and development of these documents, which provide vital clues for the road ahead in European shale-gas regulation.

Introduction

The potential threats of groundwater contamination, irresponsible disposal of flowback, the repercussions of significant land use, and increased emission of greenhouse gases have been named in recent scientific studies as main potential threats of shale-gas extraction. The current European law framework on environmental protection, mainly consisting of directives and regulations, entails some gaps and does not cover these issues comprehensively. Thus, the EU took recent action to develop shale-gas-specific regulation in order to close the identified gaps in the existing general framework.

Because the existing secondary law norms were elaborated at a time when shale gas extraction was virtually unknown in Europe, one would suspect that they entail provisions that do not sufficiently cover the specific potential threats of this technique. Indeed, there are a number of issues. Probably the most important one is that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are not compulsory for shale-gas projects. Although member states have the right to require an EIA for specific, individual shale-gas projects, this discretion does not appropriately match the level of potential environmental hazards of shale-gas extraction.

The paper does not engage in an analy­sis of the pre-existing EU regulatory framework but focuses on the EU’s efforts to close the gaps in the framework that have been discovered previously. The EU introduced nonbinding, soft-law measures in this regard to create a level playing field among all member states in the form of the 2014 Shale Gas Recommendation and the 2014 Shale Gas Communication.

The paper highlights the main features of the recommendation and the communication and considers whether they are sufficient to close the gaps in the EU secondary law framework. Overall, the ­author concludes that these measures go a long way in addressing the perceived gaps, although they do not succeed in closing all of them.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 175503, “Toward Reasonable European Shale-Gas Regulation—The European Commission’s 2014 Recommendation and Communication on Shale-Gas Extraction,” by Ruven Fleming, University of Groningen, prepared for the 2015 SPE Offshore Europe Conference and Exhibition, Aberdeen, 8–11 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.
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European Commission Strives Toward Reasonable Shale-Gas Regulation

15 July 2016

Volume: 68 | Issue: 8

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