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Energy: Holy War over shale gas?

2013-12-21 22:01:45

000a Reuters-021 Frack.jpg

Following the end of the European Council yesterday, before which Mr Cameron had written to European Commission President José Barroso asking his Commission to hold off from legislating over shale gas, Reuters is recording what might be a success for Mr Cameron – or possibly not.

From the news agency, we have Barbara Lewis telling us that "EU governments on Friday endorsed an outline deal on new rules to assess the impact on the environment of projects such as oil and gas exploration", after "removing references to shale gas that had blocked agreement".

The report then has "EU ambassadors" approving a "revised draft law, updating legislation first agreed more than two decades ago and for the first time including an assessment of a new project's impact on climate change", the source being cited as "EU diplomats".

This, however – as this report makes clear - refers to the revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) directive, and the European Parliament amendment which has, in any case, been suspended, awaiting legislative proposals from the Commission.

We have here the Environment Council statement, which makes it clear that the European Parliament has not agreed the Council position (and nor could it, as the position was only agreed yesterday). A separate statement, however, refers to four informal trilogues having taken place between the co-legislators, the last one - on 18 December - leading to the preliminary agreement.

As far as it is possible to determine, any European Parliament agreement on the EIA Directive – leading to the overturning of the already agreed amendment - would depend on the entirely the Commission making a proposal for a new law, which was expected this month or next.

However, The Times (paywall) is now headlining a story with: "EU Gives Go-Ahead For Fracking After Brussels Vows No New Regulations", offering us two contradictory statements.

First, it has Janez Potocnik telling us that "robust" rules were needed on fracking to head off legal challenges under EU law. France and Bulgaria have already banned fracking, while there have been protests about drilling in Romania.

This we already knew, but we then have an unnamed spokesman for the European Commission saying, in undisclosed circumstances, "I can confirm that as part of our climate and energy 2030 package, the Commission will present firm guidance [on fracking]. However, as envisaged for a long time, the Commission will not propose draft legislation".

This has obviously been put to Mr Cameron in Brussels, who is cited as saying that the Commission's decision marked a "good result". With nothing in writing from the Commission, though, the only "confirmation" we have is a report in the Mirror, which tells us that: "Fracking for cheap gas moved a step closer today after EU officials dropped proposals for new industry regulations".

The closest I can get to this is in the Reuters report, which has the EU official, "speaking on condition of anonymity", referring to the publication of its 2030 environment and energy strategy, which is "expected to cover shale gas". At that point, the official says any guidance on shale gas (in the strategy) "would not involve new binding law".

I wonder if this is not being misinterpreted. Potocnik's shale gas law was never intended to be part of the "2030 environment and energy strategy" and it is a matter of record that the strategy will not involve the Commission proposing draft legislation. Could that have been what the Commission spokesman was saying?

On the other hand, I simply can't see the newly assertive European Parliament or the EEB sitting on its hands if the Commission ducks out of new legislation. Both Connie Hedegaard and Potocnik have promised it. There will be Holy War if the parliament doesn't get it.