Europe’s prospects for a shale gas boom took a turn for the better last week as two of the continent’s biggest economies decided to allow the controversial hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) technique.
A parliamentary motion in Berlin brought against the use of fracking was voted down by a margin of 50 votes by the coalition-leading Christian Democratic Union, while in London energy secretary Ed Davey lifted a ban that has been in place since May.
In the Europe-wide debate over whether to frack or not, Wildcat has heard a similar argument along its travels from Czech politicians, Dutch executives, German academics and Polish lawyers – “let’s wait and see”.
The Polish government has always been committed to exploiting what it sees as an emancipating supply of indigenous gas. However, elsewhere in Europe, governments controlling territory over shale plays have found it difficult to stem public protest, instead opting to delay.
Chevron has been a big loser, having to postpone or abandon work at sites along the Black Sea as a wave of anti-fracking vitriol hit cities and conference venues across the eastern half of the EU.
A clear sign of support from both Berlin and London could begin to turn that around. Companies looking to invest in upstream work – of which there are clearly many – will see Germany, Lithuania, Poland and the UK on the more open side of the fence and the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and France on the restrictive side, with Romania and the Netherlands yet to fully declare.
There are also signs public anxiety could be turning to apathy, with only 10 hardy Bulgarians turning up to protest against fracking at an energy summit in Sofia last week, according to local press. A local referendum on the subject in Romania was declared invalid after fewer than 50% of voters participated.
Disharmony within the EU 27 could be brought to a close next year when officials in Brussels begin investigating whether or not to rule on shale gas. The European Parliament adopted two resolutions in November calling for “robust regulatory regimes”, although it is yet to receive a mandate to rule on fracking categorically.
Report after report has been published by national regulatory authorities such as Germany’s BDEW, and Poland’s PGI, arguing roughly the same point each time – fracking is, in principle, safe, if the correct and proper monitoring is observed.
What the captive audience of onlookers needs is for one country to illustrate safe and sustainable commercial production in the EU. Poland previously looked like the only hope, but now the race is on to prove Europe has an unconventional future. JP