On 22 January, the EU Commission published a set of recommended minimum principles for EU Member States (including the UK) to apply in designing their regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

The recommendations cover the following:

  • Strategic environmental assessment - carrying out a strategic environmental assessment to identify and minimise the environmental impact of proposed developments before granting licences.
  • Risk assessment - ensuring that appropriate sites are selected for exploration and production by requiring operators to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment.
  • Baseline studies - requiring operators to conduct baseline baseline environmental studies of the installation site and other areas which will be affected by proposed developments.
  • Construction of wells - ensuring that the construction of installation wells does not lead to surface leaks and spills to soil, water or air.
  • Infrastructure - ensuring that infrastructure is in place which will adequately service the particular requirements of a proposed development.
  • Good industry practice - requiring operators to use the best available techniques and adhere to good industry practice to reduce the risks of exploration and production.
  • Water usage - encouraging operators to minimise water consumption and waste streams to reduce environmental risks.
  • Monitoring - ensuring that operators continue to monitor the environmental condition of development sites throughout the life of the project.
  • Abandonment surveys - ensuring that operators carry out surveys upon abandonment of sites comparing their pre-development and post-development environmental condition.
  • Public information - publishing information to inform the public of the types of chemicals and volumes of water used at individual wells.

The regulation of hydraulic fracturing by the EU is a sensitive issue in a number of Member States. Previously, the Commission had plans to introduce a comprehensive and legally-binding EU Directive regulating it.  However, following pressure from a number of Member States, including the UK, who argued that the existing regulatory regime provides sufficient protection, these have been put on hold.

The Commission has invited all Member States to apply the principles within the next six months.  From December 2014, it will publish a scorecard comparing the implementation of the principles in each Member State.

The Commission intends to review the effectiveness of its approach in 18 months time.  At that point it will consider again whether there is a need for legislation at EU level specifically dealing with hydraulic fracturing.

A full copy of the recommendations is available here.