EU Plan For Fracking Law Threatens UK’s Shale Gas Boom

  • Date: 15/12/13
  • Tim Ross, The Sunday Telegraph

David Cameron’s plan for a new fossil fuel bonanza from “fracking” underground gas reserves is under threat from draconian environmental laws being drafted in Brussels.

The European Commission has been drawing up proposals for a new framework directive, which could take years to negotiate, in order to regulate the pollution risks of “unconventional” fuels, including shale gas.

Conservative ministers fear the move could severely damage the UK’s shale exploration industry and are now plotting a fight-back against the Commission.

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, has hosted a series of private dinners in Brussels in an attempt to persuade ministers from other EU countries to back Britain’s case.

The dispute emerged as ministers prepare to announce next week that large swathes of Britain will be made available for shale gas drilling in the years ahead.

A new round of licences for fracking is due to be issued to drilling companies next year and the government expects “massive interest” from oil and gas exploration firms.

Mr Cameron has urged communities in every part of the country to embrace hydraulic fracturing, the technology known as “fracking”.

This involves blasting pressurised water, sand and chemicals into shale beds deep underground, which then fractures, to release the gas and oil within.

Opponents of the technology have linked it to pollution of water supplies, gas leaks, small earthquakes, and even flames bursting from domestic kitchen taps.

Earlier this year, anti-fracking protesters in the West Sussex village of Balcombe, disrupted testing by Cuadrilla, the firm owning the licence to explore the shale potential at the site.

A number of Tory MPs fear their seats may be at risk from a local backlash if fracking is approved in their constituencies.

The Prime Minister has insisted that method is safe and has minimal impact on the landscape, while offering “massive” economic opportunities. Communities will be promised £100,000 in benefits for every new well where fracking takes place, under the government’s new drive for shale gas.

Mr Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne, believe that Britain’s shale reserves could provide enough gas to meet the country’s needs for forty or fifty years. They also hope the technology will create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce household energy bills, benefits which have been seen as a result of recent shale gas discoveries in America.

However, ministers fear that a new EU framework directive, driven by environmental groups, would put these plans in jeopardy.

Conservatives want to persuade the EU to allow Britain to “take the risk” of exploring whether shale gas reserves buried underground can be safely and viably extracted through fracking.

Mr Paterson returned from his latest dinner meeting of pro-fracking ministers on Friday. He was in Brussels attending a summit of environment ministers and hosted the talks on Thursday evening after the formal business of the day had concluded.

He is understood to have won the support of countries including the Netherlands, Romania and Poland.

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