RE: September 11 – Plenary vote on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive – amendments on shale gas and other unconventional hydrocarbons
On July 11, the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee voted overwhelmingly (49-13) in favour of a report by MEP Zanoni on the European Commission’s proposals for a review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive.
The Committee notably adopted proposals to adapt the EIA Directive to the arrival of a new type of industrial-size activities in Europe, namely the plans to explore and extract unconventional hydrocarbon such as shale gas in Europe. The negative environmental, health and climate impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing or fracking - the technique used to explore and extract such unconventional hydrocarbons – have been well documented since the shale gas drilling boom started a decade ago in the United States. The proposals in the Zanoni report allow us to take the necessary measures in order not to repeat the same mistakes observed in the US.
I respectfully ask you to offer your support to the current version of the Zanoni report and to the unchanged provisions on shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels in particular amendments 31 and 79 point (e). The EIA, Annex I, Article 14 shall be amended as follows:
“(e) the following points (14a) and (14b) are inserted:
14a. Exploration, evaluation and extraction of crude oil and/or natural gas trapped in gas-bearing strata of shale or in other sedimentary rock formations of equal or lesser permeability and porosity, regardless of the amount extracted.
14b. Exploration and extraction of natural gas from coal beds, regardless of the amount extracted.”
This is necessary to provide a legal clarification. According to the European commission, unconventional hydrocarbon projects are now already subject to an EIA because it cannot be excluded, on the basis of objective information, that the project will have significant environmental effects. But since not every member state or administration / public authority is willing to take this into account, an EU-wide mandatory EIA for unconventional fossil fuel activities is vital.
These amendments follow strong and clear recommendations, which received broad political support in the vote on last year’s European Parliament resolutions on shale gas. In the own-initiative report on the “Environmental impacts of shale gas and shale gas oil extraction activities”, authored by MEP Boguslaw Sonik, the European Parliament called “for the inclusion of projects including hydraulic fracturing in Annex I of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive” (§24).
These amendments are crucial, because the current version of the legislation fails to guarantee a systematic and mandatory EIA before new unconventional hydrocarbon projects start up:
• Because they have a maximum daily production rate of between 115,000 and 250,000 m3, they will never meet the 500,000m3/day threshold mentioned in the existing legislation. As a consequence, no mandatory and systematic EIA for UFF projects can currently be guaranteed.
• Because deep drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques are systematically used throughout the process, including during the exploration phase, several important environmental damages can already occur during the exploration phase. This is why not only the extraction phase should be included in Annex I, but also the exploration activities. The poor environmental record of the development of this industry in the United States has taught us that:
• It is essential to engage in a systematic gathering of baseline data – with samples of air, water and soil quality – in order to prove the causal link between UFF operations and air and/or water contamination around drilling sites.
• Such industrial developments cannot take place without properly consulting the communities living around potential drilling sites.
If large-scale UFF operations are allowed to go ahead in an unregulated way, this industry will repeat the same mistakes as in the United States, with the same dramatic impacts for the climate, environment and public health. I believe it is absolutely vital that this recommendation receives strong support, and I look to you to represent my views in this matter for the good of our constituency and for the rest of Europe.
Councillor Andrew Cooper