To reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, Europe should push ahead with controversial fracking plans, says Foreign Secretary William Hague.
World Leaders are at this moment convening in The Hague to discuss what the reaction of the international community should be to Russia’s occupation of Crimea. But European politicians are afraid that harder sanctions would hit their own economies at least as much as Russia. That is where the discussion on fracking enters the game.
Fracking is a technique used to extract shale gas from the ground by drilling a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the earth, which releases gas from shale rocks.
Mr Hague says that Europe needs to diversify its sources of supply of gas, to reduce Russia’s power: “European shale gas could help to provide energy security.” Concrete plans in Western Europe to harness these reserves could be a reason for the Russian government to take a more conciliatory stand.
This argument facilitates proponents of fracking, who grab the opportunity to get support for their plans as EU leaders consider further economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
But the question is whom such punishment will hurt most. Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports, which account for almost one third of Europe’s supplies, lets European leaders hesitate to take stronger measures.
Mr Hague wrote in an article for the Sunday Telegraph: “We would need to boost investment in gas interconnections and terminals in Europe, and develop indigenous European energy supplies for countries wishing to develop their own resources, such as shale gas.”
“It would mean helping Ukraine and neighbourhood countries to liberalise their energy markets, increase energy efficiency and ensure more resilient energy supplies.”
Proponents of fracking argue that because of shale gas, wealth and health will be distributed more equitably over the face of our planet. While traditional oil and gas resources are highly concentrated in a few countries, shale gas is available in many other locations.
The Crimean crisis has highlighted a dilemma for European countries. It has strengthened the voices in favour of relying on fracking efforts, something most countries have opposed for a long time.
But opponents argue that fracking can cause serious risks for local environment and human health, as chemicals may contaminate groundwater.
At a news conference at City University in London last Friday, anti-fracking activist Oana Mondoc called for tighter EU regulations, to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
She argued that: ”Fracking poses a risk to the local environment, climate change and the farming industry among other things. And because the UK is a trendsetter for energy legislation in the rest of Europe, it will heavily influence what happens elsewhere.”
Mondoc said that EU law has so far not been fit to regulate fracking. “At this point in time, European environmental law does not regulate it, in the sense of putting safeguards in relation to the risks,” she said.
The European parliament voted against mandatory shale gas exploitation rules earlier this year. In response to intense lobbying from the British government, the EU did not introduce legally-binding regulations on fracking. Instead, some non-binding recommendations were accepted.
Mondoc argues that this decision suggests that the European Parliament is underestimating the risks associated with fracking. She wonders whether European authorities really take their responsibility.
The UK is seen as one of the most promising shale gas sites in Europe.
The British Geological Survey estimates there could be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England alone. That is why the UK government opposes restrictions. But some European countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, have banned fracking.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, requested to exploit UK fracking opportunities to help Britain become less dependent on international oil and gas. He believes that fracking could boost the UK economy, create many jobs and reduce energy bills.
“There is no doubt that when it comes to re-shoring in the US, one of the most important factors has been the development of shale gas, which is flooring US energy prices with billions of dollars of energy cost-savings predicted over the next decade” Mr Cameron says.
“Fracking is essential to make success of globalisation” he concluded.
George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, added: “Britain will not be left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic”.
However, Mondoc says that costs of fracking in the UK and Europe will be up to 50% higher than in the US, because of a higher population density. “Fracking measures GDP on a very short time frame. Thirty years down the line, costs of climate change and severe weather is set to be worse,” says Mondoc.