The last six months has seen anti-fracking sweep Europe. In an extraordinary upsurge of citizen-led pressure, European governments, state legislatures, civil liberty groups, activists and residents have all taken up arms against the hydraulic fracturing industry.
Grassroots organisations have staged marches, legal challenges, hundreds of public meetings and many direct actions in response to this unprecedented threat. And this remarkable collective anger has scored a series of victories – including bans, moratoriums and revoked licenses.
The anti-fracking movement is spread continent-wide – from the Atlantic to the Black Sea sea. And with no wells in production and only a handful under exploration, big Oil and Gas is finding it increasingly difficult to root fracking into the European pscyhe.
France – Moratorium
In France, the government issued two exploration licenses to Schuepbach Energy and one exploration license to Total last year, valid for a period of five years. In May 2011, the government banned hydraulic fracturing on the basis of environmental concerns.
For a while, it appeared that shale exploration could proceed using conventional techniques, and Total stated in September 2011 that it would explore without the use of hydraulic fracturing, according to Reuters. Those hopes were dashed on 4 October 2011 when the government cancelled the three exploration permits issued in 2010, citing drilling plans recently submitted by Shuepbach and Total which still included hydraulic fracturing.
No exploratory drilling had been accomplished on the permits. On the same day, President Sarkozy has stated that France would not permit hydraulic fracturing until it is proven to be “environmentally clean.”
Germany – Westphalia Moratorium
In Germany, ExxonMobil has been drilling vertical study wells since 2008, completed four exploratory shale wells by January 2011, and previously had planned for investment of $1bn over the five years to 2015. However, the state of North-Rhine Westphalia instituted a moratorium on further shale-gas drilling in March 2011. A history of politically active environmental groups in Germany may continue to hamper exploration progress.
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Holland – Legal challenges
A court in the southern Dutch city of Boxtel recently ruled that a temporary planning for an exploratory borehole was invalid. THe judge ruled that exploratory wells are by definition not temporary – if gas is discovered the intention is to extract it.
This landmark ruling against UK fracker Cuadrilla sent shivers up the fracking industry’s spine – without the ability to secure temporary plannings it’s difficult to see how frackers can perform the exploratory testing required.
Bulgaria – Exxon licence revoked
In January 2011 thousands of people took to the streets of Sophia and other major cities to demand the governement ban hydraulic fracturing. The opposition – largely organised on Facebook – forced Bulgarian MPs to vote overwhelmingly for a ban
Bulgaria became the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling.
Since a series of direct action at the country’s first test rigs, fracking is looming large in the national conciousness. Activists have increasingly joined forces with local residents, and the mood in the UKs ruling party is said to be swinging against the industry.
Poland & Ukraine – pushing ahead
Poland perhaps represents the most aggressive environment for shale-gas development as the government aims to reduce its reliance on Russian gas exports. Prime Minister Donald Tusk has indicated that commercial production could begin as early as 2014, and expects that Poland may be self-sufficient in natural gas by 2035.
According to Reuters, ExxonMobil has six licenses and is now planning a second test well near Siennica, while state-owned PGNiG holds 15 shale concessions and is planning to drill six test wells in 2012.
The industry is not unopposed, however. In the autumn activists occupied a Shale industry conference, and are increasingly vocal.
Poland – send details of your anti-fracking groups and, yes, we’ll put them here – our facebook page.
In Ukraine, the first shale-gas exploration contract was awarded to Royal Dutch Shell in September 2011. On 30 September, the state energy company, Naftogaz, signed a preliminary agreement with ExxonMobil on shale-gas exploration and development. Energy and Coal Minister Yuriy Boyko believes that exports of shale gas could be possible in the next seven to 10 years.
Ireland anti frackers – see here
Send details of anti frackers in Europe to our facebook page and we’ll update this piece accordingly.