The EU is better equipped that the United States to ensure that shale gas would be exploited in a safe way, MEP Bogusław Sonik, rapporteur on the environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities, told EurActiv Poland in an exclusive interview.
Bogusław Sonik is a Polish MEP from the European People’s Party. A member of the European Parliament since 2004, he is a former journalist and an activist in the Solidarność Students' Committee. He spoke to EurActiv Poland’s Judyta Skowrońska.
The European Parliament's Environmental Committee has already held the first debate on the amendments to your report on shale gas. Among them there was one demanding a ban on shale gas drilling in the EU.
Indeed, there is such an amendment, but I would not attach importance to it, because it is mostly designed to attract media attention. Nowadays no one talks about enacting a ban on shale gas drilling at the European level. There is kind of consensus whereby each country should decide on its own whether it wants to extract shale gas or not.
The dispute concerns whether European legislation is sufficient to ensure the safety of the environment during the extraction of shale gas or not. To reach a compromise which would guarantee such protection, attention is paid also to the directives on water, waste, air quality or landscape.
We have much more demanding rules in Europe than in US at the time when they started to extract shale gas. In Europe we are accustomed to the quality of life, environmental quality and they must be guaranteed. I wish we would reach such an agreement.
What other obstacles do you expect before reaching such an agreement?
At this moment the matter at issue is that some of environmentalists claim that shale gas is not a transition fuel between coal or oil and renewable energies, suggesting that during its extraction huge amounts of methane are released. But this is a matter of scientific dispute.
We draw attention to the fact that in our part of Europe we have up to 90% of energy based on fossil fuels and we take the view that shale gas causes [fewer] emissions. The US experience shows that shale gas emits about 50% less CO2 than fossil fuels. Therefore, we want to look at shale gas in a friendly manner.
There seems to be a lot of different opinions when it comes to CO2 emissions…
This is word against word. Different researchers give different figures but generally there was no objection until now, that the gas is a better fuel than coal in terms of CO2 emissions. So it is suddenly something new. We should not yield to such an extreme demagoguery whereby we should rule out everything that is related to coal, gas or oil. We are going in the direction of renewable energy but we are not able to move in a short time from 90% carbon-based energy to other fuels.
We meet the standards to which we have committed and we want to meet them - in order to reduce CO2 emissions and increase the share of renewable energy by 2020. And it is also in our Polish interest. … Poland is waiting for stable information, which of the renewable energy sources our country will support and how, so that it would not change policy every six months.
So Poland should treat shale gas as a transition fuel?
Yes, but you should remember that in this way we can also be less dependent on external sources.
How about nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is present all over the Europe for many years. We have neglected the production of this kind of energy because after Chernobyl, we were afraid of Russian technology. At this moment technologies that guarantee safety are available and it is in our Polish interest to build nuclear power plants. I don’t know how it looks like in the context of financial analysis when compared to shale gas. But for sure, nuclear energy should not be something that is to be discarded as an option.
So the best solution would be a balanced energy mix?
Probably so. But please remember that a nuclear power plant requires a dozen or so years of construction. But it should be part of the mix.
You have mentioned directives on water, waste and air quality. Is there any risk that other regulations - except those on shale gas - will hinder its extraction?
To protect the society from negative effects of exploitation, we have to do everything to guarantee the safety of those provisions. We have to balance interests of industry on the one hand and environmental interests on the other. But we should not create in an artificial way structures that will simply prevent the extraction of shale gas.
Often in these discussions about shale gas, those who are debating are using American examples. We are in a different situation, we have rules on chemical products, we have very precise rules on the quality of water, on air, and it seems that we don’t need anything else. But to extract shale gas is something new for the EU, and no one says that we should not watch this.
The most important thing is also to define the responsibility of industry, as I mention in my report. This is to avoid the situation, when suddenly it turns out that there are some damages and no one knows who is responsible for it.
The Green lobby is quite strong on those issues …
It is strong. They assume that we should forbid the extraction of shale gas, nothing less than that. For two reasons: because we don’t know what damages on environment it can cause and because it is not profitable when it comes to renewable energy.
Here we also must have in mind that they have their own interests where the budget should be spent. Today we say that renewable energy must be supported by the state budget. So when alternatives – like shale gas – appear, it questions the size of subsidies for renewable energy sources. Competition appears. This is why the radical environmentalists say: “Forget about shale gas, because it is competition to our beautiful renewable sources”.
What are the next steps in your report?
In July and August we will look for compromises and in mid-September there will be a vote in the environmental committee. We will seek agreement where possible. And then the report will go to the plenary session. We also want to make it parallel to the report prepared by the industry committee.
Are the conclusions of that report similar to those in your document?
The essence of the report is similar, but the situation in those two committees is different. My committee – the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee – is always very radical when it comes to the environment and foresight in this area. While the Industry, Research and Energy Committee looks at it as an alternative source, a way to reduce energy dependence from Russia.