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Shale gas: risk or opportunity?

On Wednesday 22 January, the European Commission will publish a Recommendation aiming to ensure that proper environmental and climate safeguards are in place for "fracking" – the high-volume hydraulic fracturing technique used in shale gas operations. The Recommendation should help all Member States address risks and improve transparency for citizens. It also lays the ground for a level playing field for industry and establishes a clearer framework for investors.


The Recommendation is accompanied by a Communication that considers the opportunities and challenges of using high-volume hydraulic fracturing to extract hydrocarbons. Both documents are part of a wider initiative by the Commission to put in place an integrated climate and energy policy framework for the period up to 2030.


Building on existing EU legislation and complementing it where necessary, the Recommendation invites Member States to:

  • Plan ahead of developments and evaluate possible cumulative effects before granting licences;

  • Carefully assess environmental impacts and risks before high-volume hydraulic fracturing starts;

  • Ensure that the integrity of the well is up to best practice standards;

  • Check the quality of the local water, air, soil before operations start, in order to monitor any changes and deal with emerging risks;

  • Control air emissions, including greenhouse gas emissions, by capturing the gases;

  • Inform the public about chemicals used in individual wells, and Ensure that operators apply best practices throughout the project.


Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Shale gas is raising hopes in some parts of Europe, but is also a source of public concern. The Commission is responding to calls for action with minimum principles that Member States are invited to follow in order to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need."


EU Member States are invited to implement the principles within six months and, from December 2014 onwards, inform the Commission each year about measures that they have put in place. The Commission will monitor the Recommendation with a publicly available scoreboard that will compare the situation in different Member States. The need for developing harmonised and legally binding provisions will be reviewed in 18 months.


Conventional natural gas is trapped in reservoirs underground. Shale gas is different – it too is a natural gas, but it is trapped inside rocks that have to be broken open ("fractured" or "fracked") to release the gas. In the EU there is limited experience to date of high-volume hydraulic fracturing on a large scale and at high intensity. The practice involves injecting high volumes of water, sand and chemicals into a borehole to crack the rock and facilitate gas extraction. So far experience in Europe has been focused essentially on low volume hydraulic fracturing in some conventional and tight gas reservoirs, mostly in vertical wells, constituting only a small part of past EU oil and gas operations. Drawing on the North American experience where the high volume hydraulic fracturing has been broadly used, operators are now testing further this practice in the EU.


The environmental impacts and risks need to be managed appropriately. As more wells need to be drilled over a wider area to obtain the same amount of gas as in conventional wells, the cumulative impacts need to be properly assessed and mitigated.


Most EU environmental legislation precedes the practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. For this reason certain environmental aspects are not comprehensively addressed in current EU legislation. This has led to public concern and calls for EU action.


A new Video News Release (VNR) seeks to put forward a balanced view of the shale gas industry in Europe. Using experiences from EU Member States and commentary from experts and representatives from industry and NGOs, the VNR dispels myths about both the benefits and concerns surrounding shale gas exploration and makes the case for EU action.



Poland allows companies to explore for shale gas. However, no commercial production has yet taken place. The VNR visits the Lubocino plant where drilling is ongoing and speaks to an engineer on the plant. The fracking process is expected to start there in spring 2014. The VNR also presents the concerns of Justyna, owner of a small farm in Lewinie, where a drilling well was installed close to her property.


United Kingdom

The VNR also visits Barton Moss near Manchester which has seen large-scale protests against the exploration for shale gas. The opinions of both the operator of the site, as well as an association which opposes it are heard.


Note to editors
On 22 January 2014 the European Commission publishes its recommendations for the shale gas industry in Europe. These will cover environmental protection issues, such as water contamination and seismic movements, to mitigate the risk of hydraulic fracturing. The European Union remains committed to the development of an energy efficient and low carbon economy, but recognises the need for action at EU level on the development of the shale gas industry to address gaps in the current legislation.


A press release and memo will be published by the European Commission at midday on Wednesday 22 January:‎

Format available:
FR (Français)
EN (English)

PR contact:
Tel: +32 2 533 95 51

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