FYI—forwarded from HEAL in EU
EU court rules on assessing fracking’s environmental impact
By Susanna Williams
ENDS Europe, 13 February 2015
Mandatory environmental impact assessments are not necessary for shale gas exploration, the EU court has ruled.
Thresholds set in EU law on the amount of daily gas extraction needed to trigger an environmental impact assessment (EIA) leave member states a “measure of discretion” to evaluate individual cases, the court said this week.
But in a move welcomed by critics of fracking, the court said countries must take account of the cumulative impact of exploratory fracking when deciding whether an EIA is required. That means checking whether the environmental impact of project would be greater in combination with other similar projects.
An Austrian court asked the EU court to clarify how Europe’s EIA Directive should be interpreted after a municipality challenged an authorisation for exploratory shale gas drilling on its territory without an EIA.
EIAs for shale gas exploration are not mandatory in the UK or Poland, the European countries where shale gas development is most advanced.
The UK this week adopted a law on fracking after removing a provision that would have made environmental impact assessments mandatory. The new law requires local authorities to take into account the cumulative impact of projects when assessing planning applications.
In Poland, only exploratory wells deeper than 5,000 metres must be considered for EIA, which effectively amounts to an exemption for fracking because Polish shale rock is typically at depths of 3,000 metres. But cumulative environmental impact assessments are generally part of environmental regulations in Poland.
The EU court ruling is the first time Europe’s EIA law has been put to the test over shale gas development and the results indicate that it is “far too weak to deal with the specific threats posed by fracking”, said Antoine Simon of NGO Friends of the Earth.
EU legislators revised the EIA Directive in 2013 and the amended law entered force last May. Despite calls from MEPs, the revision did not make impact assessments mandatory for shale gas projects, but it included a requirement to take the cumulative impact of projects into account.
The court also ruled on the area where the cumulative impact of projects should be considered, stating that this should not be confined to municipal boundaries. The effectiveness of EIA law would be “seriously compromised” if a part of a project located in another member state would be left out of consideration, it added.
Additional reporting by Wojciech Kość