On January 22, 2014, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on the “minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.” The Commission “invites” the 28-member states of the European Union “to apply the principles” so that hydraulic fracturing is done safely and without confusion over different environmental regulations among various nations. The Recommendation includes the following guidelines:

  • Before issuing licenses for exploration and/or production of hydrocarbons which may include high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations, the member state “should prepare a strategic environmental assessment to prevent, manage and reduce the impacts on and risks for human health and the environment.”
  • The member state should require the operators to prepare a characterization and risk assessment of the potential site and surrounding surface and underground area. The risk assessment should “respect a minimum vertical separation between the zone to be fractured and groundwater.”
  • Before high-volume hydraulic fracturing takes place, a baseline study should be made of the water, air, and land in the surrounding area in order to monitor any changes and deal with emerging risks.
  • The member state should ensure that operators
    • Use the best available practices to prevent surface leaks and spills to the soil, water, or air.
    • Use fracturing techniques that minimize water consumption and waste streams.
    • Not use hazardous chemical substances, “wherever technically feasible and sound from a human health, environment and climate perspective.”
    • Capture gases for subsequent use, minimize flaring and avoid venting.
    • Carry out high-volume fracturing in a “controlled manner and with appropriate pressure management with the objective to contain fractures within the reservoir and to avoid induced seismicity.”
    • Maintain well integrity through well design, construction and integrity tests.
  • The operator should publicly disseminate information on the chemical substances and volumes of water that is intended to be used at the site and then are finally used. The Chemical Abstract Services numbers of all substances, a safety data sheet, and the substance’s maximum concentration in the fracturing fluid should be provided by the operator.

The Commission suggests that the member states apply these guidelines within the next six months and, from December 2014 onwards, inform the Commission annually about the measures they put in place. It plans to monitor the application of the Recommendation on a publicly available scorecard, comparing what each member state is doing. In 18 months, the Commission plans to review the effectiveness of this program and will decide whether it is necessary to put forward legislative proposals with legally-binding provisions on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.