EXCLUSIVE report for Scottish Energy News
By NICOLE SAGENER, EurActive.de
The European Parliament has welcomed the importation of fracked shale gas into the EU – including via the INEOS petro-chem refinery at Grangemouth, near Edinburgh.
The decision by Euro MPs follows a similar decision earlier this year by the EU Commission.
The Parliament’s decision also welcomed more fracked gas from the United States. The related report by the energy committee said that a single energy market with fully integrated LNG and gas storage is essential to a ‘crisis-proof’ European Energy Union.
Although EU gas demand is at a 20-year-low, the bloc’s falling production volume, as reported by the European Commission back in February, has led to fears of a gas shortage.
The Commission has also made it clear that more imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are vital, despite more power being generated by wind and solar power.
The EU Climate-Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said: “Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and is therefore an important cog in the transition to a low carbon economy”.
The Commission’s main objective is more gas imports from third countries, but also building cross-border gas storage using the Connecting Europe Facility and structural funds.
According to analysis by the European Policy Centre, the EU’s existing LNG terminals can only cope with 195 million cubic metres per year, which is between 40% and 50% of the EU’s annual demand.
Fracking is when fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas. It is criticised for (allegedly) harming the environment.
Almost half (47%) of natural gas produced in the US is fracked. Satellite emission rates have recently shown that methane concentrations rose dramatically in many of the major shale gas producing regions in the USA.
The ‘shale boom’ has enabled the US to lift its long-standing ban on energy exports. Several projects have got approval to export liquefied fracked gas but only a few are ready to operate at the moment.
The US shale boom has transformed the American economy and has enabled INEOS to begin a weekly trans-Atlantic super-tanker ferry shipment of shale gas from Pennsylvania to Grangemouth.
The UK government has recently approved planning applications for exploratory drilling for shale gas in northern England.
However, the minority SNP-led Scottish Government imposed a ‘temporary’ ban on planning applications relating to drilling for Scottish shale gas.
- The parliament in the Republic of Ireland later today approved the first reading (in principle) of a bill to prohibit onshore gas and oil exploration.
COMMENT by Scottish Energy News
Sturgeon skating on thin legal ice over Scottish shale gas ban
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is skating over thin legal ice in her possibly pre-judicial manifesto pledge about being ‘deeply sceptical’ about a domestic shale gas energy industry in Scotland.
She said that it would have to be proven beyond doubt that shale gas exploration does not pose a risk to public health.
But if a prospective on-shore exploration company, for instance, INEOS, decided to raise a judicial review of any prospective Scot-Govt. decision to permanently ban shale gas drilling, the case would be decided ‘on the balance of probabilities’ – which is the judicial bar in civil cases (which a judicial review would be) – rather than the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ thresh-hold for criminal trials.
Moreover – and this is the point which the anti-wind farm NIMBYs are frequently oblivious of – an owner of land has the right to add to, to exploit, to develop and adapt his land (ie there is correctly a presumption in favour of development) unless there are previously agreed and enacted rules or regulations preventing such development.
As any health and safety and/or environmental / operating regulations which would be, if not already, in place, would operate on the basis of ‘fair and reasonable’ legislation, this too is a civil court test.
Another basic legal principle is that the law cannot prosecute people for what they ‘might’ do (at least in Scots civil law, never mind the logically questionable terrorism ‘thought crimes’).
So if a land-owner holds or obtains the right licences and permissions from the state/ government, and operates safely within a prescribed health and safety and environmental regime, there is a presumption in favour of (shale gas) development.
By so clearly setting out such a probatively prejudicial position, Sturgeon and her SNP government is on thin legal ice.