European Commission Opens Consultation On Hydraulic Fracturing in European Union

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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 Commission added.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals into shale formations at high pressure to enhance oil and natural gas extraction.

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 About Chemicals Used in Fracking

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 were considered.

By Stephen Gardner  

The European Commission consultation on unconventional fossil fuels in Europe is available at

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