Shale gas row has Poland heading to EU court
BY DAVID TWOMEY · JULY 31, 2014 · NO COMMENTS
BUSINESS, CLIMATE, FINANCE, HEALTH, INDUSTRY, LIFESTYLE, MEDICAL, NEWS, POLITICS, WATER · TAGGED: AUSTRALIA, BUDGET, BUSINESS, CARBON, CARBON EMISSIONS, CARBON PRICE, CARBON TAX, CLIMATE, CLIMATE CHANGE, COAL, COURT, DRILLING, EC, ECJ, ECONOMY, ELECTRICITY, EMISSIONS, ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, ENVIRONMENTAL, ETS, EU, EUROPEAN COMMISSION, EUROPEAN UNION, FINES, FRACKING, GAS, GDP, GOVERNMENT, GREENHOUSE GASES, INDUSTRY, JANEZ POTOCNIK, LAWS, MINING, OIL, POLAND, RESOURCES, SHALE, SLIDER, SOLAR, SUSTAINABLE, TRANSPORT
The European Commission is reported to have begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts.
In June, the EC, the administrative arm of the European Union, sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive.
EU news website EurActiv reports if Warsaw does not now satisfy the EC’s concerns by the end of August, the case will begin a several-month journey that could end at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Poland said that an amendment to its EIA law in June 2013 limits shale drills in ‘sensitive’ areas such as Natura 2000 sites to 1000m.
However, “as shale gas reserves in Poland are located mostly at a depth 1000-4500m and the ‘sensitive’ areas cover only 23 per cent of the Polish territory, the new thresholds de facto exclude most shale gas exploration projects in Poland from the scope of the EIA Directive,” Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, told EurActiv.
This law obliges shale gas producers to analyse and report on factors including volumes of water used, numbers of wells created, and the environmental impact of heavy truck traffic to and from shale sites.
The location of projects and risk of accidents also have to be accounted for, particularly in forests and densely populated urban areas.
European firms have little experience of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – to extract shale gas, and “studies indicate that this technology creates high risks of groundwater and surface water contamination, as well as risks to air quality and biodiversity,” Mr Hennon told EurActiv.
He added that governments planning shale drills needed first to address these “essential and relevant criteria” under EU law.
If European states choose to snub directives from Brussels, the ECJ has the power to levy substantial penalties.
EurActiv reports it rarely does so but Belgium, for instance, was recently fined €42,000 a day for not correctly implementing an energy efficiency directive.
“Fines take into account the GDP of the country and its ability to pay,” a EU official said
EurActiv reports the new shale gas case will be closely watched, partly because the EIA was the only one of the EU’s 11 climate and environment laws that Poland fully transposed into its national statute on time, according to an analysis by the green legal group Client Earth.
Pawel Mikusek, a spokesperson for Poland’s environment ministry told EurActiv that the EC’s letter was still being analysed in Warsaw ahead of a formal response.
However, the original amendment to Poland’s EIA law had been “aimed at speeding up exploration and searching for shale gas,” he said.
Poland’s ambition to use shale gas as a lever to increase its energy independence from Russia has been hit by the pullout of big industry players such as Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil and Talisman.
Lobbying by Poland and the United Kingdom is thought to have stymied a directive regulating shale drills that the EC’s environment directorate had planned to include in its 2030 climate and energy package of EU legislation, announced in January.