Scots MEP and Conservative EU Energy spokesman raises fears over ‘backdoor ban’ on UK shale energy exploration and extra costs on N. Sea oil

Ian Duncan, Scotland's Tory MEP
Ian Duncan, Scotland’s Tory MEP

Scotland’s sole Tory Euro MP has raised industry fears that the EU Commission is seeking to sneak in new rules to set up a Europe-wide ban on shale gas exploration without – and above –  ‘domestic’ (ie UK) parliament and government approval.

The EU Commission’s Environment Directorate has awarded a contract to develop a ‘planning brief’ (BREF) on hydro-carbon exploration policy to Amec Foster Wheeler.

Dr Ian Duncan, MEP – who is also a member of the European Parliament’s Energy Committee – asked the Commission:

“Given that the BREF will be developed without the input of parliament or the Council of Ministers and given its wide ranging nature, what impact assessment has the Commission undertaken of its impact on energy security, the better regulation agenda, what regulatory gaps will it seek to fill,  and why is the Commission seemingly pursuing a policy goal of restricting fossil fuel extraction that subverts the democratic process?

“And what is the legal basis for the BREF and will any of the contents of the BREF be legally binding on Member States either retroactively or in the future awarding of permits?

In reply, a spokesman for the Brussels-based EU Commission said:

“The preparation of a BREF on hydrocarbons exploration and production on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high volume hydraulic fracturing in the EU and in member states is considered to be part of the energy security strategy

“Its purpose is not to restrict fossil fuel extraction, but rather to set out a level, predictable and transparent playing field for oil and gas activities as well as to help address public concerns for domestic oil and gas production.”

Under the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive (2010) the Commission is mandated to produce BREFs that identify Best Available Techniques (BAT) in certain industries. 

BREFs are developed by the Commission without any parliamentary oversight, and without oversight of Member States (via the Council). BAT conclusions have a quasi-binding impact, and can lead to new Commission regulation.

But Ian Duncan MEP – who is also the UK Conservative party’s  Energy Spokesman in the European Parliament – told Scottish Energy News:  

“The UK is the gold standard for oil and gas environmental and health and safety standards and has been for decades. 

“This Commission initiative risks dragging our standards of excellence to the lowest common denominator while at the same time burdening the North Sea industry with extra cost while it is still recovering from the oil price collapse. 

“There is no legal basis for these rules, and the Commission plan to bypass members states and the parliament is not only anti-democratic, it runs counter the promises of Commission President Juncker to do less, better.   Instead, the Commission have been found doing more, worse.

 “There is much uncertainty in the industry as to what this shale energy BREF will lead to. 

“Notably the process seemingly seeks to identify ‘gaps’ in regulation of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon operations, rather than the more traditional process of developing prescriptive measures for operations in order to mitigate an already identified negative consequence. 

“Potential impacts include: the imposition of new techniques for extracting offshore oil and gas that would require substantial investment in existing infrastructure, for example in well design.  There is a fear among industry that the retrofitting cost will outstrip the benefit of continuing to operate.

“Under UK law, operators have to comply with BAT in order to win a contract.  There is a fear that any planned investment in new extraction in the North Sea will become uneconomical if substantially revised criteria is introduced

“There is a fear that the Commission are using the BREF to effectively impose a Europe-wide ban on fracking without having to involve Member States or Parliament by establishing unattainable criteria. 

“This would run contrary to Article 194 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) – which clearly states that energy mix is a member state competence.”

See also:

Shale and Safety: get the fracking facts right from the Royal Society of Edinburghhttp://goo.gl/BMO6Xp

Shale energy: Progressing the UK debate http://goo.gl/FzFYoH

The UK Shale Energy Conference 2015 – Glasgow 25 Sept: – http://goo.gl/hrEzOi

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