EU policy-makers consider case for shale gas regulation

Reuters

* Commission to announce shale stance around year-end

* Some in industry want regulatory framework

* Uncertainty over methane emissions

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Oct 3 (Reuters) - European policy-makers willdecide by the end of the year whether they need tailor-maderules to cover the development of shale gas reserves, a seniorofficial said on Thursday.

Until now, the European Commission, the EU executive, hassaid existing environmental law is adequate for the early stagesof shale gas exploration in Europe.

Jos Delbeke, director general of the Commission's climateaction service, said he expected an announcement around the endof the year as part of a package of future energy and climatepolicies, addressing 2030 energy targets, energy costs and alsoshale gas.

"We will deal with shale gas as part of the 2030 questionsthat are on the table," Delbeke told a debate on shale gas.

"We are doing an analysis of where there may be gaps in ourlegislation. There may be legislation from the EU."

Even if the Commission does go as far as a legislativeproposal, elections to the European Parliament next yearfollowed by a new cast of EU commissioners mean it would almostcertainly not be finalised before 2015.

Shale gas development in the European Union is highlycontroversial.

Industry argues it can curb greenhouse gases, lower energycosts and shore up indigenous supplies. Some in the business,such as Chevron, have said a regulatory framework wouldbe helpful.

But environmental campaigners and commission officials alsohighlight the complexity of its development in Europe.

Delbeke cited the issues of Europe's population density,environmental concerns and the need to ensure that it wascomplementary to renewable energy, but did not displace it.

"The impact has been very negative (for Europe). The U.S.has substituted coal for gas and superfluous coal has come toEurope," he said of the shale gas revolution in the UnitedStates.

Among the environmental concerns is the release of methane,which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

Some research has said methane leaks from shale wells couldmean shale gas is even worse than coal for the environment, butuncertainty over how much is emitted is very great.

A new study for the University of Texas at Austin, UnitedStates, presented in Brussels on Thursday found emissions fromsome types of pneumatic devices used in shale gas extraction,were higher than previously thought.

Overall emissions, however, were comparable to the mostrecent estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Drew Nelson, a senior manager at the Environmental DefenseFund (EDF), a U.S. advocacy group, said the EDF was supporting16 separate studies to try to create more certainty aboutmethane emission levels.

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