The rapid emergence of shale gas production in the United States and the discovery of potential exploitable reserves in the Member States of the European Union led the European Parliament and Member States to question how such development should be regulated. Indeed, the European Commission does not provide for regulations addressing specific requirements and procedures related to shale gas development, and Member States’ national laws and regulations generally do not address hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction.
Various studies and reports commissioned by the European Commission have identified certain issues related to the existing EU environmental regulatory framework and pointed out the potential difficulties Member States could face in interpreting the EU regulatory framework to properly develop their shale gas resources. As the prospects for shale gas development within the European Union moved forward, the question of whether the European Commission should rely exclusively upon the existing European environmental legislation applicable to conventional hydrocarbons development or should discuss new legislation specifically addressing shale development became persistent.
As a result, the European Commission published a Recommendation on minimum principles for shale gas development on January 22, 2014, which is aimed at guiding Member States carrying out or planning to carry out shale gas projects using hydraulic fracturing. While these principles are not legally binding, the European Commission has invited Member States to implement them along with existing legislative requirements governing conventional hydrocarbons for more interpretive clarity.