Richard North, 17/12/2013  

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Sounding the alarm last week about Commission plans to regulate shale gas "fracking" was Owen Paterson, who has been lobbying behind the scenes to head off this potentially damaging measure at the pass.

However, as this blog reported back in October, the Commission is committed procedurally to producing a legislative proposal, otherwise damaging European Parliament amendments go ahead. We can expect a formal proposal either this month or next.

This is despite the much-hyped Cut EU Red Tape initiative, sponsored by David Cameron, asking Brussels to avoid making new laws to control shale gas exploitation, an entreaty which has been completely ignored in Brussels, despite attempts by the Prime Minister to put it on the agenda at the last European Council.

Now, in the run-up to this week's European Council, it seems Mr Cameron is about to make another attempt, having written to Commission President Barroso warning him that new EU laws could kill off investment in fracking at a "critical and early stage".

According to The Times (paywall) - set out in more detail here - the Prime Minister is arguing that long delays and uncertainty caused by new legislation were a "major case for concern".

Mr Cameron has warned that EU competitors, such as China and the US, where gas prices have plummeted as a result of shale gas, are "already ahead of us in exploiting these resources". He thus tells Barroso, "There is clearly merit in providing additional clarity on how the existing comprehensive EU legislative framework applies to shale gas", then adding, "However, I am not in favour of new legislation".

What the Prime Minister has not understood, though, is that the EU fully intends to block shale gas development. In an agenda largely driven by NGOs such as Greenpeace, we have already reported how the Geneva-Brussels nexus is working on plans to kill the industry at birth, with the fulsome support of the European Commission.

Strangely enough, with virtually no publicity, last week saw the LIFE 2014-2020 programme signed off. This approves annual grant payments of €11 million (see page 58) to environmental NGOs to enable them to continue their opposition to fracking. The EU funds will be used to leverage further contributions from charitable foundations and member state governments, making these NGOs formidable players, acting at the heart of the system.

They are sustained by a flow of anti-fracking articles, such as this one in the Guardian yesterday, retailing the downside of shale gas exploitation. The trouble is that there is some merit in the arguments raised, as drilling companies have caused considerable problems in some communities.

What is troubling is that even as today, Energy Minister Michael Fallon reveals the Government's fracking roadmap, British commentators seems unaware of the depth and power of the forces ranged against shale gas exploitation. They may thus be caught out by the intensity of the onslaught that the Commission is about to unleash on the industry, turning Mr Fallon's initiative into a roadmap to nowhere.

Nevertheless, we are informed by a government source that Owen Paterson has been "taking a leadership role in Europe" on negotiations on the new fracking rules. "We want robust, clear environmental regulation to protect the environment and also for the shale gas industry. That must protect the environment and allow the industry to move ahead without legal challenge", the source says.

Today, though, that source hardly seems "on message" with Mr Cameron saying we don't want any legislation. But this leads us to the only certainty in the business: Mr Cameron is going to be disappointed.

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