December 18th, 2015

European Parliament Asks: Can Fracking “Be A Viable Technology” in The EU?

By Geert Decock

Admittedly, political processes move slowly. But when it comes to the position of the European Parliament on plans to turn the European Union into an Energy Union, it was worth the wait, all ten months of it.

After the European Commission announced its ideas for an Energy Union, the Parliament decided to respond to these plans. We were all holding our breath, when we learned that a conservative right-wing Member of the European Parliament, Marek Józef Gróbarczyk, got appointed in March as a rapporteur and the pro-business Industry, Energy and Research Committee was going to handle the file. In the European Parliament, it is standard procedure for rapporteurs to write a first initial draft. After that, other Committee members can submit their amendments.

As anticipated, the first draft by MEP Gróbarczyk was everything that Europe’s oil and gas lobby could hope for. It contained a very positive view about the shale gas and fracking, repeating the industry talking point that shale gas could facilitate the transition to a low-emission economy.

It became immediately clear that Mr. Gróbarczyk’s views were not mainstream in the European Parliament, not only on shale gas and fracking, but also on a whole range of other issues. The rapporteur advocated to no longer have a specific EU policy on renewables, because this “could result in a drastic increase in energy costs in some Member States, which would lead to energy poverty, deindustrialisation of the European economy and a subsequent rise in unemployment”. To put it mildly, Mr. Gróbarczyk is not a believer in green jobs.

No less than 1162 amendments were tabled to correct his 13-page report. Over the summer, the real parliamentary work started on elaborating so-called Compromise Amendments, i.e. amendments that are likely to receive majority support from the parliamentary committee. Needless to say that report changed substantially after some more progressive Members of the European Parliament started to demand some serious changes. Mr. Gróbarczyk had to give into almost all demands, as his text was completely unacceptable. There was some serious haggling over the substance of a compromise amendment on shale gas, fracking and unconventional oil and gas. The following text was agreed to and put to a vote on November 10: In contrast to the original draft, the compromise amendment now stated “the public concerns about hydraulic fracturing and the consequences this technology might entail for the climate, environment and public health”. The text also recognized “the limited potential of unconventional fuels to help meet the EU’s future energy demand”and the “high investment and exploitation costs and the current low global oil prices”call into question “whether hydraulic fracturing can be a viable technology in the European Union”.

In early October, a majority of members of the Industry Committee accepted this text, which amounts to nothing short of a complete U-turn on the longer-term role of fracking in a world trying to wean itself off fossil fuels. The report went from “shale gas facilitating the transition to a low-emission economy”to acknowledging the negative consequences fracking might entail for “the achievement of the EU’s long term decarbonisation goal”. Readers of this blog might remember that we were pretty happy about this victory in a previous post.

On December 15, the plenary session of the European Parliament still had to confirm this latest position of the European Parliament on shale gas. Except for some last-minute amendments from some right-wing, climate-sceptic Members of the European Parliament, which were all roundly defeated, the text as voted by the Industry Committee was never under threat. In the end, the Parliament adopted this report with a comfortable majority of 403 in favour, 177 against and 117 abstentions.

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An amendment (nr 59) from the left-wing European United Left group, calling on EU Member States “to refrain from any shale gas exploration and exploitation activities”, did not get a majority. Still, 205 Members of the European Parliament voted in favour, with 356 against and 136 abstentions.

How did rapporteur Gróbarczyk respond to the result of these votes and the final text? Well, he didn’t. He quit as Member of the European Parliament a couple of week ago. Marek Józef Gróbarczyk is now Minister of Marine Affairs in the new conservative government of Poland, where he is even better able to serve the interests of the oil and gas industry. Think I am exaggerating? Check his Twitter and Facebook account with a steady stream of pictures of Mr. Gróbarczyk posing proudly in front of a new LNG terminal in Poland or meeting with a Qatari sheikh.

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