U.K. Lobbied in Brussels to Halt EU Legislation on Shale Gas

Jan 15, 2014 5:56 am ET

(Updates with environmental lobby in seventh paragraph.)

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. lobbied European Union policy makers to stop plans for a new law on shale gas exploration, according to an official letter.

The government aimed to convince EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik and EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard that existing European laws are adequate, according to the letter from Ivan Rogers, the U.K.’s permanent representative to the EU, sent to officials in London.

The U.K. also sought to support European Commission President Jose Barroso in his view that there is insufficient evidence to propose new legislation, according to the letter dated Nov. 25 and obtained by Bloomberg News.

The U.K.’s campaign was a success, based on draft guidelines reported yesterday. The proposals will largely leave regulation of drilling to member states, allowing pro-shale governments including Britain and Poland to set their own policies on hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that’s made the U.S. the world’s largest gas producer.

The U.K. will “need to work hard to support Barroso and to guard against backsliding when his position is attacked by opposing interests,” Rogers said in the letter.

Officials at the Foreign Office and Department of Energy and Climate Change in London declined to comment on the letter.

Local Authorities

“This letter exposes the U.K. government’s hypocrisy on fracking,” Tony Bosworth, an energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in an e-mailed statement. “Behind the scenes the government uses Machiavellian maneuvers to scupper the regulations and silence the concerns of other member states.”

Britain, holder of at least 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in shale formations in the north, has offered tax breaks to drillers to kick-start the industry that promises to create thousands of jobs and cut reliance on imported fuel as North Sea reserves decline. Prime Minister David Cameron this month pledged millions of pounds to local authorities that approve shale developments.

Total SA, which is banned in its home country of France from fracking, this week became the largest oil company to enter the U.K.’s shale industry. Bulgaria and the Netherlands have also restricted the shale drilling process that pumps water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to force the fuel from the rocks.

The draft proposals will be a part of a set of documents on future EU policies, known as the climate and energy package, that the commission is scheduled to adopt on Jan. 22.

Green Lobbies

The planned measure will urge the 28 member governments to follow “minimum” principles so that hydraulic fracturing is done safely and in line with EU environmental laws. It is a defeat for green lobbies and the European Parliament’s environment committee, which called for new laws on shale gas. The draft is now in internal consultations in the commission.

“Our short-term strategy has to be to ensure that when the Climate and Energy Package issues for inter-service consultations it includes robust guidance, shaped by the U.K., but no legislative proposal on shale,” Rogers said in the letter.

--Editors: Alex Devine, Alastair Reed