BRUSSELS--The European Commission opened a public
consultation Dec. 20 on the use in the European Union of hydraulic
fracturing for unconventional fossil fuel deposits, such as shale gas.
The Commission said the consultation was aimed at individuals, organizations
such as companies and nonprofit groups, and public authorities. It was part of a
“broader process designed to involve civil society” that would assess the
appropriateness of EU legislation to manage the environmental and health risks
of fracking. The consultation is open through March 23.
The consultation results would feed into a proposal in 2013 for a “framework
to manage risks [of fracking], address regulatory shortcomings, and provide
maximum legal clarity and predictability to market operators and citizens,” the
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, sand, and
chemicals into shale formations at high pressure to enhance oil and natural gas
Studies published by the Commission in September found that EU environmental
laws in principle provide a suitable framework for fracking but that there are
“gaps or potential gaps” in some laws, including the Environmental Impact
Assessment Directive (2011/92/EU), the Environmental Liability Directive
(2004/35/EC), the Mining Waste Directive (2006/21/EC), and the Water Framework
Directive (2000/60/EC) (35 INER 849, 9/12/12).
Concerns also have been raised about an apparent lack of information about
the use of chemicals for fracking in registration dossiers submitted under the
European Union’s REACH chemicals law (35 INER 236, 3/14/12).
REACH stands for the registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals
(Regulation No. 1907/2006).
The use of fracking has developed slowly in the European Union compared to
the United States, with EU countries split on the regulatory approach to take
and the potential environmental risks.
Countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and France, have placed
moratoriums on fracking, while Poland and the United Kingdom have permitted
exploratory operations. The United Kingdom recently ended a temporary ban on
fracking that was put in place while earthquake risks associated with fracking
By Stephen Gardner
The European Commission consultation on unconventional fossil fuels in Europe
is available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/uff_en.htm.