A proposal to ban new hydraulic fracturing operations in the European Union was rejected by members of the European Parliament. Natural gas production among member states is set to decline as demand continues to grow, lawmakers said. While each state in the EU has the right to decide for itself whether or not to exploit shale reserves, MEPs said any such exploration needs to supported by "robust regulatory regimes."
New technology available to international energy companies have uncorked vast deposits of oil and natural gas locked in underground shale formations. Countries like Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine are among the eastern European leaders for shale reserves, though other countries in the region like Bulgaria have shied away from the emerging shale boom. Many of the shale deposits in Europe are much deeper, and more expensive, to exploit than those in the United States. With the European Union looking to break Russia's grip on the natural gas sector, however, some member states are moving forward.
In April, a British geologist said there may be "a lot more" shale oil and natural gas reserves offshore United Kingdom than on land. Reserves in regional waters could top 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, about five times the amount estimated onshore.
British drilling company Cuadrilla Resources last year said that it was "highly probable" that hydraulic fracturing operations in the Preese Hall-1 well near Blackpool caused small tremors in the region. An April 2012 study concluded that fluid injected into shale reserves intercepted an adjacent fault zone, but noted the "probability of further earthquake activity is low."
A Swedish lawmaker was among those MEPs advocating a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Apart from the rare tremor, chemicals used during the extraction process could migrate out of processing areas into drinking water supplies and potentially "destroy the future of mankind." The European Parliament shot down a resolution that would place a moratorium on new fracking operations in the European Union, however, after supporters noted the potential benefits to low-carbon agendas and energy security.
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A resolution said each member state has the right to make its own determinations on shale exploration. Any decision to do so, however, needs to be complemented by "robust regulatory regimes." Energy companies need to recycle as much of the water used as possible and provide detailed information on the chemicals incorporated into fracking fluid. Companies, meanwhile, are expected to pick up the tab on the infrastructure needed to usher in a European shale boom.
Europe is looking for ways to ensure its energy independence, though many countries have long-term supply contracts on the books with Russian energy company Gazprom. Apart from a geopolitical race to secure pipeline capacity, Europe may need to look closer to home to secure future supplies. European lawmakers noted that natural gas imports to the EU could top 15.8 billion cubic feet by 2035 while conventional production declines.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com