Mandatory EIA for Shale Gas Development – EU Recommendations Target Fracking

By Marlies Huijbers, Katarzyna Branny, July 7, 2014

purposes where the amount extracted exceeds 500 tons per day in the case of petroleum and 500,000 cubic meters per day in the case of gas. 

Operators who carry out an EIA must comply with seven main components of the process:

  • Description of the project and project site and its key components, such as construction, operation and decommissioning, as well as a description of expected emissions (water, air, noise, etc.).
  • Description of considered alternatives.
  • Description of the environment that is likely to be significantly affected by the project, such as human populations, fauna, flora, air, soil, water, landscape and cultural heritage.
  • Description of the significant impact on the environment. For example, with respect to fracking operations, significant impact includes extensive use of water or noise emissions.
  • Mitigation. After describing the significant impact on the environment, an operator must specify how it plans to prevent, reduce and, where possible, offset its effects.
  • A lay description of a project that will be understood by the public.
  • Lastly, a description of technical deficiencies or lack of know-how. In this part of the EIA procedure operators must identify areas where they have limited knowledge or expertise. 

Needless to say, it takes time and research for the operator to obtain such information. Moreover, once the research has been carried out a consultation procedure follows under which authorities likely to be concerned by the project as well as other member states and the public can express their opinions. If the public or authorities reject the EIA, the operator must conduct additional research and re-submit the EIA. 

In general, it takes operators on average six months to two years to carry out an EIA, and the costs can reach 1 percent of the whole investment.

Furthermore, it must be noted that the European Parliament has undertaken efforts to amend the EIA Directive and cover fracking operations by the EIA. Currently, member states have discretion whether to make activities subject to an EIA when they fall below the thresholds for petroleum (500 tons per day) and gas (500,000 cubic meters per day). Last fall the European Parliament voted in favor of an amendment that would mandate activities falling below the aforementioned thresholds to be subject to an EIA However, due to the opposition of some member states, including the United Kingdom and Poland, the Council of Ministers rejected this proposal. 

Independently, in March the European Parliament passed much awaited changes to the EIA Directive. These amendments contain requirements that will further strengthen the assessment of, among other things, shale gas projects. In particular, developers will not be able to avoid the EIA by submitting small individual projects in adjacent areas that are below the thresholds (so called “salami slicing”). The amended directive now awaits the Council’s approval. 

As discussed, the EIA poses a significant burden on operators planning to conduct shale gas operations that involve hydraulic fracturing. Considering other factors, such as lack of infrastructure or dense population, the EIA may become another hurdle hampering the development of