By Laura Beans

beansbwWhile fracking has been touted as the answer to our energy and economic problems in the U.S., Europe has proven to be more cautious of these claims. Yesterday, members of the European Parliament endorsed proposals to impose mandatory, in-depth Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for all shale gas and other unconventional drilling activities in the European Union (EU), according to Food & Water Watch Europe.

The new rules would mean that large scale fracking projects require audits based on “the direct and indirect significant effects” on human health, animal species and habitats, land, water and climate. 

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Green MEPs protesting against shale gas, urging their fellow MEPs to exercise caution, outside the European Parliament, Nov. 2012. Photo credit: The Greens, European Free Alliance of the EP.

The decision demonstrates the EU’s resolve to avoid an out-of-control, unregulated shale gas drilling boom like that in the U.S. Mandatory EIAs would provide baseline data for proposed drilling sites, increase preparedness among environmental agencies and allow community residents to be included in consultation early on in the drilling process. 

“This vote to impose a mandatory EIA for all shale gas drilling was a litmus test for the resolve among MEPs to demand an adequate risk-management framework for shale gas activities in Europe,” said Geert De Cock, a Food & Water Europe policy officer. “The majority in favor of this proposal should be a boost of confidence for Environment Commissioner Potocnick to bring forward stringent proposals for this risky industry.”

Opposition to fracking has been growing across Europe. France and Bulgaria have banned fracking, according to Keep Tap Water Safe, and Romania and Ireland are considering moratoriums while research continues into the alleged safety of the process. Over the summer, multiple peaceful protests broke out at exploratory drill sites in Balcombe, Sussex, south of London. Anti-fracking activists and community members in the UK have continued courageous displays of direct action, strengthening a collective voice rejecting the process. 

But advocates remain, including Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. Struan Stevenson, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, who sits on the European Parliament’s influential Environment Committee, has warned that new plans could “strangle” the fracking industry, especially in countries like Britain, reports Oil Change International. “This would be a huge burden and will prevent the exploitation of Britain’s massive shale reserves,” Stevenson said.

The endorsed proposals have yet to be finalized by Europe’s Environment Ministers, who are expected to meet next week. But the backing of Parliament Members for a mandatory environmental audit signals a major setback for the oil and gas industry. 

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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