The European Parliament passed on Wednesday an amendment to existing EU legislation, requiring new shale gas projects to undergo environmental impact studies.
MEPs want compulsory impact assessment for fracking – technique of pumping fluid that contains water, sand and a mix of chemical into a shale formation at high pressure to crack it. The amendment also refers to the exploitation of shale oil or coal gas.
Hydraulic fracturing raises concerns. We lay down clear criteria to avoid conflicts of interest and involve the public”, said lead MEP Andrea Zanoni. He was granted a mandate, by 322 votes to 311 with 14 abstentions, to negotiate a first-reading agreement with EU ministers.
Current legislation applied only for natural gas projects with daily output above 500,000 cbm.
MEPs also want the experts carrying out the studies on shale gas to work in a scientifically objective manner, independently of the developer or the public authorities.
“The EU recognizes that shale gas is coming (…) That seems like a real change,” Bernadette Rappold, attorney at law at McGuireWoods consultancy, told BR.
Rappold, who has worked in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 15 years, cited well blowouts and illegal diversion of rivers as some of the issues she has investigated. The emissions from the wells, which contain a mix of natural gas, water and other chemicals, were also kept under watch. She described cases in which the water turned bad but the cause couldn’t be pinned down on shale gas developments.
She added that small earthquakes were registered in areas where such events were uncommon, explaining they were triggered by the shale wastewater (produced water) coming out of the wells and not by fracking itself.
Rappold has worked in the state of Pennsylvania, which is crossed by the Marcellus shale formation.
“There are some risks. Those risks can be managed,” said Rappold.
According to her, there were some 6,000 companies in the US developing shale gas projects in 2012, out of which 20 were big companies of the likes of Chevron – which started shale gas explorations in Romania – and Shell. These oil majors account for one third of the total shale gas output.
The former EPA employee said that most of the problems were with the small companies.