What were the MEPs voting on?  How did the Irish MEPs vote?

Amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive.

The original European EIA Directive needed updating and many amendments were proposed to the EU Parliament, the focus was on much more than oil and gas.

With regard to shale gas extraction, up to now, EIAs were only required where the amount of gas being extracted from a drilling zone was in excess of 500,000 cubic metres per day.  This is OK when the method of extraction is conventional (obtaining gas from an underground reservoir) and production per well is enormous.  However, with unconventional gas extraction (using multiple horizontal drills and hydraulic fracturing), each well generally produces much less than this and consequently EIAs have not been required for exploratory drilling using fracking.  This loophole could also possibly be used by the oil and gas industry to proceed with commercial unconventional gas extraction without EIAs.

What relevant amendments were proposed?

Under the section “Projects Subject to Mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment”:

Amendment 31

“The production thresholds laid down for crude oil and natural gas in Annex I to Directive 2011/92/EU do not take into account the specificity of daily production levels of non-conventional hydrocarbons, which are often highly variable and lower. Accordingly, despite their environmental impact, projects concerning such hydrocarbons are not subject to compulsory environmental impact assessment. In accordance with the precautionary principle, as called for by the European Parliament resolution of 21 November 2012 on the environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities, it would be appropriate to include non-conventional hydrocarbons (shale gas and oil, ‘tight gas, ‘coal bed methane’), defined according to their geological characteristics, in Annex I to Directive 2011/92/EU, regardless of the amount extracted, so that projects concerning such hydrocarbons are systematically made subject to environmental impact assessment.”

Significance:  This is a proposal that all unconventional fossil fuel extraction is subject to mandatory EIA.

Result:  Overwhelmingly adopted.  524 in favour, 118 against, 15 abstentions.

Conclusion: Excellent result

Amendment 79

a)      “Exploration, evaluation and extraction of crude oil and/or natural gas trapped in gas-bearing strata of shale or in other sedimentary rock formations of equal or lesser permeability and porosity, regardless of the amount extracted.”

b)      “Exploration and extraction of natural gas from coal beds, regardless of the amount extracted.”

Significance: This would make EIAs mandatory for ALL on-shore shale gas or coal bed methane exploration or extraction activities with or without fracking.

Result: This was defeated (by about 30 votes).  These paragraphs were deleted from the final adopted text.

Conclusion:  Disappointing result.

Not what the campaign wanted.  However, the small majority was encouraging given the level of lobbying engaged in by the oil/gas industry.

Amendment 126

a)      “Exploration, limited to the phase involving the application of hydraulic fracturing, and extraction of petroleum and/or natural gas trapped in strata of gas shales or other sedimentary rock formations with similarly low or lower permeability and porosity, independently of the quantity extracted.”

b)      “Exploration, limited to the phase involving the application of hydraulic fracturing, and extraction of natural gas from coal seams, independently of the quantity extracted.”

Significance: This amendment was included at the last minute by the rapporteur (chair) despite feverish pro-fracking lobbying.  It is a compromise proposal, making EIAs mandatory when exploration activities include fracking but not mandatory in the case of drilling without fracking.  (Reminder  – exploratory drilling can include seismic testing, drilling a mile or more deep, using drilling additives, and producing drilling waste that can include heavy metals, radioactive substances and VOCs – volatile organic compounds.  As well as construction of drilling pads and access roads, erection of drilling rigs, much increased traffic and noise and light disturbance).

Result: This amendment was agreed.  364 (54%) for; 292 (45%) against; 9 (1%) abstained.

Conclusion:  Good result. 

It did not go as far as the campaign wished, but it means that all activities that involve hydraulic fracturing MUST have EIAs.


MEP                                      Party                                              Vote

Liam AYLWARD                               FF                                                                      For

Nessa CHILDERS                              Independent (formerly Labour)               For

Emer COSTELLO                               Labour                                                          For

Brian CROWLEY                                FF                                                                   For

Pat the Cope GALLAGHER            FF                                                                    Absent

Marian HARKIN                               Independent                                                   For

Jim HIGGINS                                      FG                                                                  Abstained

Seán KELLY                                         FG                                                                 Against

Mairead McGUINNESS                    FG                                                                   Against

Gay MITCHELL                                  FG                                                                    Abstained

Paul MURPHY                                    Socialist Party                                               For

Phil PRENDERGAST                         Labour                                                          Abstained

*Link to voting record:

What is this saying about the attitude of our government to fracking?