European Voice, 15 January 2014
By Dave Keating
Internal document lays out strategy for convincing the Commission to drop plans for fracking legislation.
A leaked UK government internal document dating from November, seen by European Voice, details a concerted lobbying campaign against European Commission plans to adopt a binding legislative European Union-level framework on shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing (so-called ‚fracking’).
Though the Commission appeared to be leaning toward a legislative approach in the Autumn – an approach being pushed hard by Janez Potocnik, European commissioner for the environment – the Commission later shifted direction toward non-binding guidelines.
The November letter from Ivan Rogers, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, to the government in London is a summary of developments in Brussels on the issue. It notes that Potocnik’s idea for a framework directive seemed to be gaining traction. The Commission was under pressure from the European Parliament and some member states such as Bulgaria and France to adopt this binding approach.
But Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, was sceptical. „Our short term strategy has to be to ensure that when the Climate and Energy Package issues for inter-service consultation (which could be as late as early January) it includes robust guidance, shaped by the UK, but no legislative proposal on shale,“ the letter says.
The letter imagines that should a legislative proposal emerge from the Commission, the UK would not be able to gather a blocking minority against it in the Council.
“Our main allies on shale are Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which means that we are currently short of a blocking minority on the issue should legislation emerge,” the letter states. Rogers also acknowledges that the Commission’s impact assessment „apparently supports the case for legislation“ and warns that this will be used to attack the non-legislative approach.
„We will need to take care to avoid our better regulation narrative being used against us in this respect“ the letter cautions.
The letter also suggests that dropping the shale gas issue could be used by the Commission as a quid pro quo in exchange for Poland agreeing to a 40% emissions reduction target for 2030, which is also to be adopted next Wednesday.
“Shale might be used as a lever to influence Poland’s difficult position on the GHG targets,” Rogers writes. Poland has been opposed to setting emissions reductions targets beyond 2020.
Along with the shale guidelines, the Commission will also propose a new emissions reduction target for 2030. A spokesperson for the UK’s permanent representation to the EU said they could not comment on leaked documents, but that the UK’s position against cumbersome EU regulation on shale gas is well known.
Environmental campaigners said the letter shows the immense pressure the Commission has been under to avoid the legislative approach even though it would probably be favoured by the Parliament and the Council. They say EU-wide rules are necessary because fracking poses safety and environmental concerns, particularly through the contamination of ground water.
“This letter exposes the UK Government’s hypocrisy on fracking,” said Tony Bosworth, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “In public the prime minister [David Cameron] and others trumpet the benefits of regulation while behind the scenes the government uses Machiavellian manoeuvres to scupper the regulations and silence the concerns of other member states.”
The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers has said that hydraulic fracturing is already covered by existing EU and national legislation. The industry says that cumbersome regulatory burdens would stifle exploration for what could turn out to be a valuable indigenous energy resource that would reduce Europe’s energy dependency.
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