Transatlantic trade pact could boost shale gas industry by allowing companies to avoid courts and planning laws
As the US and EU inch closer to a landmark trade deal, green groups in Europe have stepped up warnings that a new transatlantic compact would make fracking more likely by swerving environmental and planning laws.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to eliminate barriers for US companies investing in Europe and vice versa, but could be used to ride roughshod over public opposition to exploitation of shale gas, green groups warn.
“The talks are likely to favour safeguards for corporate investments over safeguards for citizens and the environment, allowing companies to seek compensation when government decisions affect their profits,” a coalition of green groups including Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club said in a recent report.
This could benefit companies seeking to exploit shale gas, whose activities may be affected by environmental or health regulations, the report added.
Opponents of shale gas are already relying on laws and regulations in the EU to slow or prevent fracking, which injects a highly-pressurised mix of chemicals, sand and water deep underground to free up reserves of gas and oil.
They also argue the method could pollute air soil and water, harm rural areas and wildlife and lock countries into the use of fossil fuels for many decades to come.
Following the latest round of talks with the US on a potential lowering of trade barriers, EU chief negotiator Barcia Bercero said it wanted an agreement to cut costs for businesses, “without cutting corners on health, safety, labour, environmental standards”.
— EU TTIP Team (@EU_TTIP_team) March 14, 2014
— GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) March 11, 2014
But environmental groups say a possible clause, known as the ‘investor-state settlement agreement’ , could enable companies to claim damages through an arbitration panel if they regard their profits as harmed by changes in laws or policies.
“Arbitrators have a strong bias towards investors – and no specialised knowledge about our climate or fracking. Companies are already using existing investment agreements to claim damages from governments, with taxpayers picking up the tab,” the report says.
A growing number of North American law firms have recently set up in Brussels to lobby the European Commission on environmental regulations, and countries such as Canada are pushing hard for a removal of an effective ban on oil products derived from its highly-polluting tar sands.
The European Commission in January dropped initial proposals to apply a new layer of regulation on fracking, pointing to existing legislation it says would safeguard against pollution, a major boon for plans by the UK and Poland to exploit shale gas.
The US unconventional oil and gas industry – particularly those corporations that make drilling equipment – would likely be a big investor in Europe if shale gas reserves turn out to be commercially viable.