EU parliament to approve shale gas extraction despite protests

By bne IntelliNews April 16, 2012

Bogdan Turek in Warsaw -

The European parliament is expected to approve a resolution in June, basing its decision on an environmental impact report, that will reject arguments by lobbying groups in Russia, Germany, France and Poland who say extraction of shale gas is damaging the environment.

Boguslaw Sonik, Polish vice-chairman of the EU Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety, told reporters on April 2 that the report on the environmental impact of shale gas and shale oil extraction, which he carried out in cooperation with a large group of experts, is ready and will be debated for about three weeks starting April 25. A resolution regarding the findings is to be considered in June. "We asked the experts preparing the report whether the current regulations are sufficient to assure safe excavation of gas," Sonik said. "The answer was positive on condition that the extraction process will be closely monitored, as Europe does not have experience in this area."

The EU report will follow a similar one commissioned by the UK government, which on April 17 said shale gas fracking, a process where pressurised water and chemicals are pumped underground to open shale rocks and release trapped gas, was safe to resume with tighter rules on seismic monitoring and drilling surveys.

Poland, like the UK, is looking to develop its significant shale gas reserves as a way to diversify energy resources. A recent survey showed 70% of Poles favour shale gas exploration in the areas it was discovered as it could help lower gas prices. According to the Polish Ministry of Environment, a total of 101 licenses have been issued so far for gas prospecting. Polish companies got 39 licenses, foreign companies the rest, including US giants ExxonMobil and Marathon Oil.

Poland's energy policies have become a target of attacks both by German environmental groups that oppose Poland's building of its first two nuclear plants, and by French and Russian groups that oppose shale gas exploration. The Russian company Gazprom is said to consider EU shale gas competition for sales of Russian gas. The attacks intensified when an April 2011 study by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirmed Poland has large stores of shale gas. Of the 1.92 trillion cubic metres of unconventional gas thought to be available in the country, 346bn to 768bn cm appears exploitable - that would meet 35 to 65 years of demand for gas in Poland. "We cannot succumb to the lobbying groups," Sonik says. "No coal, no shale gas, no nuclear energy - so we should have only wind farms?"

Sonik said that various green groups have urged the EU to adopt a single law for the whole EU on shale gas extraction to end wide divergences in member states' treatment of the issue. "Formation of one law for the whole EU as regards shale gas exploration would be unjustified and time-consuming," Sonik said, adding that it is the leading theme of the report which will be approved in June. "Every country has the right to decide which kind of energy it should use."

Sonik said the report will refute opponents' argument that hydraulic fracturing could reduce and pollute water supplies. During the fracturing process, water, sand and chemical additives are injected underground to release gas trapped in the rocks. "Such false news has been spread by various ecological organizations," he claimed. "Water is recycled and the chemicals are not toxic."

Sonik said more attacks on shale gas exploration are expected as the European Commission works to upgrade the bloc's water legislation. "The water quality rules will be toughened up and the opponents may use it to block shale gas excavation," he warned.

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