Euro Parliament panel exempts shale gas from beefed-up rules

BRUSSELS, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Backers of shale gas scored a victory this week when a European Parliament committee exempted the industry from beefed-up environmental impact assessments.

The Parliament's Environment Committee Wednesday overwhelmingly approved an update of EU law overhauling how and when environmental impact assessments, or EIAs, are performed, calling for more public input on projects ranging from bridges and ports to intensive livestock farming.


The updated law includes strengthened rules to prevent conflicts of interest in the EIAs while restricting exemptions and taking new environmental factors such as biodiversity and climate change into account when carrying them out.

But a bid by members of European Parliament to include the early stages of shale gas exploration within the new EIA regime was left out at the urging of Britain, Poland, Lithuania and a handful of other EU member nations that are making big bets on shale gas.


"Despite Parliament's requests, mandatory environmental impact assessments for the extraction and exploration of shale gas, regardless of the expected yield, were not included in the agreement," the committee said in a statement.

The law initially included mandatory completion of the full EIA procedure at each stage of shale gas projects, including during the exploration of phase. Polish MEPs, however, objected, contending it would hamper research on potential deposits, and was removed over the objections of Green Party members, Polish Radio reported.

The measure now goes to the full House during the March 10-13 plenary session in Strasbourg.

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The committee vote represented the latest in a recent sting of EU victories for shale gas backers.

In December, "a strong blocking minority of member nations," including Britain, succeeded in an effort to leave shale gas exploration and extraction activities out of the scope of the EIA directive agreed to by MEPs and the Lithuanian presidency of the EU Council.

That prompted a protest from Italian MEP Andrea Zanoni, who was guiding the legislation through Parliament, declaring the will of the majority of EU citizens favoring strong controls on shale gas expansion were being subverted by industry backers.

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"This is unacceptable," Zanoni said in a statement. "Europe is not the Wild West! The Council's determination to exclude citizens and local governments from decision-making will only increase the -- justified -- distrust in this form of energy."


And on Jan. 22, the European Commission did an about-face on its previous stance of establishing EU-wide regulations covering the shale gas industry after a campaign led by British Prime Minister David Cameron and backed by Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

Instead, the commission chose to issue only non-binding recommendations and left national governments in charge of maintaining environmental standards on "fracking" despite the objections of environmentalists who say the process is inherently unsafe and leads to toxic chemicals polluting groundwater supplies.

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The shale gas and EIA moves "demonstrate, beyond doubt, that European citizens can expect no help, or protection against the dangers of fracking, from Brussels," Antoine Simon of Friends of the Earth Europe and Geert de Cock of Food & Water Europe wrote in The Parliament Magazine. "The interests of dirty industries have yet again prevailed over those of citizens." 

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