Environmental campaigners and the shale gas industry have clashed amid accusations that companies are controlling an influential European Commission group advising on fracking policy.
Friends of the Earth Europe walked out of the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction. The JRC is the Commission’s in-house science service. It is meant to objectively inform EU policymaking.
The network is tasked to assess on-going fracking projects and their safety, the NGO said Wednesday (15 April). But it was “in essence an in-house shale gas lobby on European Commission energy strategy”, and should be scrapped.
That was dismissed by Shale Gas Europe, the industry’s trade association, and the European Commission.
The Commission told EURACTIV it regretted Friends of the Earth’s decision because “participation of the civil society in this network is essential to ensure a balanced exchange of views.”
A spokesman added, “But it has to be noted that this Network is aimed at being a technical network and is not aimed at providing advice for decision-making purposes or at promoting unconventional fossil fuels.”
Shale Gas Europe said, “It isn’t helpful for certain lobbyists such as Friends of the Earth to walk out of an important process only two months after the initial kick off meetings.”
“It’s a political statement rather than a genuine desire to solve Europe’s acute energy challenges.”
Yesterday, Friends of the Earth Europe and anti-lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory published an investigation into the make-up of the group.
The network is composed of 74 members, 14 of whom work for the European Commission.
Of the 60 that do not;
- More than 70% represent or have financial links to the fracking industry, while fewer than 10% represent civil society
- Those in the top jobs – the five chairs of the body’s working groups – either work for the fracking industry, are from pro-fracking governments or industry-friendly bodies
- Fracking industry giants such as Cuadrilla, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Total, ExxonMobil, and GDF Suez are all represented on the group
EU officials said that there were not five working group chairs, as the report said. There are only two chairs; one chair and vice chair for each of the two working groups.
An industry representative giving a presentation at the first meeting had been mistaken for a chair of a group, sources told EURACTIV.
Officials said the industry was needed to get site-specific technical and environmental data.
There was an open call to which anyone interested in joining the network could apply, they said, and further applications were still welcome.
But Friends of the Earth Europe said the promotion and expansion of controversial fracking in Europe was the core aim of the advisory group.
Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said, “While a ‘science and technology network’ on unconventional fossil fuels sounds objective, it’s a complete façade.
“The European Commission is giving the fracking industry all the seats at the top table and crowding out citizens and groups with legitimate concerns about this dirty industry.”
Climate change conference
Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory added, “As we get closer to crucial climate talks in Paris, the Commission’s cosy relationship with the fossil fuel industry ensures fracking is being ushered in through the back door.”
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this November aims to agree a worldwide legally binding limit to global warming. Global campaigns continue against fracking and call for fossil fuels to be left in the ground.
Critics of unconventional fuels say they are dangerous to health, the environment, and the climate.
Opponents argue that fracking increases carbon emissions, while supporters say it can act as ‘bridge fuel” while low-carbon energy sources, such as renewables, are improved.
Shale Gas Europe said that everyone in the group agreed that shale gas should be “developed within an environmentally sustainable framework”.
“However, any decisions made about the future of shale gas need to be based on full and thorough scientific and academic analysis and not on unsubstantiated rhetoric,” it said in a statement responding to the report.
As well as replacing more carbon intensive fossil fuels such as coal, it could play a “critical role” in helping the EU meet its carbon reduction commitments, the association said.
It could also help make energy cheaper, more reliable and secure, Shale Gas Europe said.
Energy security is one of the central goals of the EU’s Energy Union project, which aims to bolster the bloc’s resilience to shortages. It was given political impetus after the Ukraine crisis.
Earlier this month, Greenpeace EU said that the fossil fuels industry was steering an EU expert body, a technical working group chaired by the European IPPC Bureau, which informs policymaking on air pollution. The EU is currently updating its air pollution limits for large industrial installations, including lignite and coal-fired power plants, under the Industrial Emissions Directive.
The Bureau recommended limits that are weaker than the US, China, and Japan. Greenpeace blamed the limits on the groups being infiltrated by fossil fuel lobbyists.
On Thursday (16 April), the European Environmental Bureau filed a complaint to the European Ombudsman, regarding the composition of the group working on the air pollution limits.
reenpeace EU climate and energy policy director Joris den Blanken said, “These limits would accommodate Europe’s ageing fleet of polluting coal plants at the expense of the health of European citizens. Coal is choking people and the climate. It’s time for the EU to set a clear pathway to phase it out.”
The Commission oversees hundreds of advisory groups which play a role in the development of EU legislation and policy.
The composition of the Commission’s advisory groups has been criticised in the past. The European Ombudsman, which investigates maladministration in the EU institutions, has probed the issue.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has made proposals to the Commission on how to make the groups more balanced and transparent.
She has called on the executive to establish a legally binding framework for all expert groups, including a definition of what balanced representation in different groups should look like.
She has recommended measures to reduce potential conflict of interest situations and to publish more information about the work of the groups.
The Commission should reply to her proposals by 30 April 2015.
“The Commission has done a lot to increase transparency and to promote more balanced interest representation in its expert groups. However, there is room for improvement if we want to be sure that the public can trust and scrutinise the work of these important groups,” said O’Reilly.
Lobbying in the spotlight
The shale gas spat broke out as Transparency International warned that EU governments and institutions must adopt robust rules for powerful lobbies seeking to shape laws and policy, or face the risk of corruption.
The anti-graft watchdog said the 19 European countries and three EU institutions studied in a new report scored an average of 31 out of 100 when measured against international lobbying standards.
Only the European Commission itself, which scored 53, and Slovenia, made it over the 50 mark, with even them showing “gaps in regulatory coverage, loopholes and poor implementation of rules,” it said.
Transparency International said the Council of the EU, scored only 19 while the European Parliament got 37%.
“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” Elena Panfilova, vice chair of Transparency International said.
“European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation,” she said.
It said there is a problem in dealing with lobbying from a whole range of sectors including the alcohol, tobacco, automobile, energy, financial and pharmaceutical industries.
The alleged influence of special interests on EU policy has drawn headlines in the past. In 2012, Malta’s John Dalli stepped down as Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy after the EU fraud office said a Maltese entrepreneur used his contacts with Dalli to seek a bribe from a Swedish firm, in return for changes to draft tobacco legislation.
The Commission has promised to introduce a mandatory introduce a mandatory register for lobbyists across the EU institutions.