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Press Releases

For Immediate Release
Press Release March 16th 2021: 

European Commission breaching EU Precautionary Principle in light-touch regulation proposal in EU Methane Strategy by turning a blind eye to adverse health, environmental and climate impacts of fracked gas methane super emitters.

With the German offer in August 2020 to give 2 LNG terminals in Germany €1 billion as an inducement to the Americans to remove the sanctions on the Nordstream2 pipeline, there is now growing concern that the European Commission, in its Methane Strategy published last October, is breaching the EU Precautionary Principle by putting trade in fracked gas ahead of climate and public health considerations in refusing to make a distinction between fracked and non-fracked gas imports in the European Energy Mix. 

The European Commission plans outlined in the Methane Strategy are targeting baby-steps, voluntary action from fracking producers such as in the US before publishing legislation later this year to reduce methane emissions in the oil, gas and coal sectors. This proposed legislation is light-touch because it makes no reference to the unavoidable emissions that are particular to fracking.

The methane reduction legislation being proposed is focusing on "improving information" via compulsory measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) and on "mitigation" to improve leak detection and repair (LDAR) using "best practice" as outlined in the October 2020 EU Methane Strategy.  "Best Practice", in layman's terms, means "business as usual". It does not stand up to scientific scrutiny to assume, with light-touch regulation, that the  enormous levels of purposeful and accidental leakage from the fracking industry can be mitigated against simply by asking the fracking industry to measure and repair its own methane leakage. 

DG Energy must acknowledge the elephant in the room -  the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies, which found in 2019 that one third of the total increased methane emissions from all sources globally over the previous decade was coming from US fracked gas (shale gas) 

The scientific evidence of serious health and environmental harm from fracking already irrefutably exists and no acceptable mitigation of fracking has been implemented anywhere in the world.

 However, the October 2020 EU Methane Strategy  not only  promotes MRV and LDAR but equally  a commitment  that

"the Commission will examine options as regards possible methane emission reduction targets or standards or other incentives on fossil energy consumed and imported in the EU".

 We proposed that the legislative act should therefore account for full lifecycle emissions including non-territorial emissions,  include a ban on fracking within the EU and a ban on the importation of fracked gas on climate mitigation grounds (due to its un-mitigatable methane leakage) and on public health grounds.  This methane mitigation action would conform with  the ‘do no harm' principle as set out in the EU Green Deal of December 11th, 2019.

On December 15th 2020 the European Commission  adopted a proposal to revise the EU rules on Trans-European Networks for Energy (the TEN-E Regulation) to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal and end support for oil and natural gas infrastructure. However, this new proposal will not ban new fracked gas infrastructure, only no longer give it financial support. The Commission must go further.

We encourage the Commission to follow the example of Ireland.

  • In  2017 Ireland implemented a legislative ban on fracking on public health and environmental grounds
  • In June 2020 Ireland became the first country in the world to have announced a policy against the importation of fracked gas in its Programme for Government when it stated

" As Ireland moves towards carbon neutrality, we do not believe that it makes sense to develop LNG gas import terminals importing fracked gas, accordingly we shall withdraw the Shannon LNG terminal from the EU Projects of Common Interest  list in 2021. We do not support the importation of fracked gas and shall develop a policy statement to establish that approach".

  • On November 9th 2020, the Irish High Court quashed all consents for the proposed Shannon LNG  fracked gas import terminal leading to a situation where no LNG infrastructure consents now exist in Ireland. This was in spite of the fact that the Shannon LNG Fracked gas import terminal project had been added to the 4th PCI List by DG Energy with no sustainability assessment - a fact noted by the EU Ombudsman in its report on November 17th 2020. Incidentally, the legality of the addition of the Shannon LNG Fracked gas import terminal to the 4th PCI List without any sustainability assessment of the climate impacts of its methane leakage is still being challenged in the Irish High Court[10] with the next hearing of the High Court on the matter due on March 26th, 2021.  
  • Legal opinion was submitted in November 2020 by researchers at the highly-respected Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights of NUI Galway to the Joint Committee on Climate Action tasked with pre-legislative scrutiny of Ireland's new Climate Bill. It confirmed that the world's first  fracked gas import ban in the Climate Bill would be compatible with legal EU, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO) trade rules.

It is now clear that intense US pressure to find new overseas markets for its Methane from fracking - such as in The Trade Deal between the US and Europe in July 2018 which agreed an Energy Plan for Europe to build more terminals to import LNG from the US on a massive scale   - is no longer sustainable because the US and the Commission are putting Trade before Climate.

Campaigners fear that both Ireland and Northern Ireland officials are hoping the legislation proposed in the EU Methane Strategy may be enough of a hook to assert that fracking emissions can be mitigated enough to allow trade continue as usual. 

Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy already controversially published its opinion that it is “by no means the case” that there are “actual” adverse environmental and health impacts from fracking in Northern Ireland and that fracking can be mitigated “to an acceptable level” on December 21st 2018, without clarifying for whom the level of fracking is acceptable

Southern officials, speaking on the programme for government to DG Energy in February 2021, never mentioned the new Irish policy in the Programme for Government against Fracked Gas Imports and even though the Programme for Government also stated that the Government would "support the tightening of the sustainability assessment rules prior to the approval of any projects on the EU PCI list." 

It seems that the unwritten rule is to not mention the war against fracked gas in the hope that ‘out of sight is out of mind’. It is clear that the temptation to take an as-low-as-reasonably-possible (ALARP) approach to climate mitigation at a policy level instead of a precautionary approach is also breaching the EU  Precautionary Principle as obliged under Article 191 TFEU and as further explained in an EU Communication in 2000. The Precautionary Principle aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk.


John McElligott
Safety Before LNG