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EU Parliament Votes To Delay Shale Development

James Kanter, The New York Times

European Union lawmakers voted narrowly on Wednesday to force energy companies to carry out in-depth environmental audits before they deploy a technique known as fracking to recover natural gas from shale rock. The result is a setback for the shale-gas industry in Europe.

The technique involves shooting a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals under pressure into shale to break it up and release the gas. France has already banned the technique, also known as hydraulic fracturing. And it has produced protests in Britain.

The rules were narrowly approved by the European Parliament, which is meeting this week in Strasbourg, France, and still must undergo another round of voting in the Parliament once an agreement on final language is reached with European Union governments. Shale gas projects that do not use fracking would not be covered by the rules, which update environmental legislation in Europe.

Even so, the result is a setback for the shale-gas industry in Europe, where it is far less developed than in the United States and where many citizens are more concerned about the environmental impact of recovering the gas than about finding new sources of hydrocarbons as a way of combating stubbornly high energy prices.

Industry groups immediately condemned the result as more red tape for European business at a time when the Continent is seeking growth after five years of economic crises.

“In its current form, the proposed revision clearly goes against the trend to minimize the regulatory burden on business in order to facilitate the economic recovery and strengthen the competitiveness of our industrial core in the E.U.,” said Markus J. Beyrer, the director general of BusinessEurope, a powerful industry body based in Brussels.

Representatives of BusinessEurope said they were also concerned by new requirements in the draft rules to carry out assessments for preserving the natural environment before starting infrastructure projects like building airports and railways.

But environmental groups and lawmakers praised the rules covering the gas sector. […]

According to the rules approved Wednesday, the shale gas and infrastructure projects would need audits based on “the direct and indirect significant effects” on human health, species and their habitats, land, water and climate.

The European Parliament voted in November on whether to ban fracking entirely. But that vote, part of a broader resolution on fracking, was rejected by 391 votes to 262, with 37 abstentions.

The Parliament did, however, call for a “robust regulatory regime,” including requirements on companies to recycle as much water as possible and to disclose which chemicals are used. Parliament officials said on Wednesday that they expected the European Commission, the European Union executive agency, to make formal proposals soon.

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