The Committee of the Regions (CoR) has called for the EU to urgently introduce mandatory environmental impact assessments (EIA) for all shale gas and oil projects. In an opinion presented by Cllr Brian Meaney (IE/EA) and adopted by the CoR, the assembly warned that regulation was needed to mitigate against the potential environmental hazards of shale gas and oil exploration and ensure the protection of citizens' health.
As Europe continues to look to alternative forms of energy as part of its efforts to become more sustainable and reduce import dependency. Fracking – the process of drilling or injecting fluid into the ground to extract shale gas or oil – has been considered by some companies in the EU, hoping to emulate the experiences in the US. The Committee of Regions warned, however, that in addition to the serious environmental and health harm that can be caused by this activity, alongside other carbon energy it is simply not sustainable in the long-term. Cllr Brian Meaney (IE/EA) said, "There are still too many questions related to the extraction of shale gas and oil which pose significant questions and challenges, especially for local authorities. The EU must put in place safeguards to protect citizens' health and reduce the impact on the environment by urgently regulating the industry. It must also not be forgotten that this is not a remedy to our energy needs in the future".
The CoR urgently calls for the EU to put in place tight regulation and control, with limits on exploration and exploitation until a legislative agreement has been reached. Mandatory EIAs must be introduced and carried out, helping reduce air and water contamination often associated with the drilling for shale gas and oil. The introduction of mandatory EIAs would also improve transparency forcing companies, for example, to declare chemical content used during the process. Given the potential hazards, the Committee also calls for local and regional authorities to be given the right to decide whether such activity takes place in their region, especially in sensitive areas or in cases where they feel this could impede their efforts to meet greenhouse gas targets.
Counteracting claims made by supporters of fracking, the CoR argues that shale gas and oil exploitation "will not reverse the continuing trend of declining domestic production and rising import dependency". The Committee also questions the wider implications that fracking will have in terms of releasing more greenhouse gases, including methane, into the atmosphere contributing to further climate change. Furthermore, offering support to shale gas and oil could undermine the EU's efforts to move to a resource-efficient society and hamper international climate agreements such as the UN Development Goal which promotes environmental sustainability.
The CoR fully respects the right of Member States to choose among the various energy sources available to them. Careful consideration should only be given to using shale gas and oil as a short-term solution and the opinion stresses that "it cannot be a political goal itself…it should not be promoted as an alternative for Europe’s green energy future". Brian Meaney, a councillor from Clare County in Ireland, reinforced this concern commenting, "Shale gas needs to be properly reviewed but we must also focus our efforts to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel. The IPCC published a report just last week shows that we can no longer put more carbon into our atmosphere. We should concentrate on investing into research and development in renewable energy, whilst also assessing the risks from shale gas extraction".
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