Shale gas could be a “game changer”, says EU climate chief

Connie Hedegaard admits shale gas will be considered in 2030 climate package, but says it’s no ‘silver bullet’

Connie Hedegaard, speaking at Green Alliance think tank event in London today

Connie Hedegaard, speaking at Green Alliance think tank event in London today

By Sophie Yeo

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard believes shale gas could be an energy and climate “game changer”, but does not believe it will have a similar effect in Europe as it has had in the US.

US emissions fell 3.8% from 2011 to 2012 according to government data, a development most analysts believe is linked to the country’s transition from coal to gas as a source of electricity generation.

A growing lobby in the EU – notably in Poland and the UK – want the hunt for shale gas, known as fracking, to be accelerated, citing falling energy costs in the USA.

Speaking at a meeting held by the London-based Green Alliance think tank, Hedegaard said the EU needed to discuss the role fracking could play in boosting the EU’s energy mix.

“Yes, it could be a game changer,” she said. “It is a game changer already what is happening in the United States.”

“The Commission’s view is that if Member States want to do shale gas, yes you can do shale gas,” she said, but stressed that environmental standards would need to be taken into account.

The EU’s package of climate targets is due to be released in mid-January, and will decide on the EU’s direction up to 2030. The EU has so far been successful in keeping to its 2020 targets.

In October, MEPs voted for new EU laws which would require the fracking process to face the level level of environmental regulation as drilling for oil. These standards would apply to full scale extraction, but not for initial exploration. Supporters of the technology accused the EU of trying to stifle the emerging industry.

But she warned against seeing fracking as a silver bullet that would solve Europe’s energy problems.

“The only thing I think people need to understand is don’t expect that we will get the prices for shale gas in Europe as they have in the United States,” she said, pointing out that the geology, dense population and mineral rights in Europe mean that the process will be more complicated.

“People must not jump to the conclusion that if we did shale gas it would be as cheap as in the United States, where they have vast areas with no people living there.

“It’s really important that people don’t think that can solve our problems, so we don’t have to do efficiency or renewables.”

Hedegaard said that renewable energy should not be subsidised forever, and that subsidies should be “dynamic and flexible, and distinguish between mature and new technologies”.

But at the same time, she criticised the continuing subsidies for fossil fuels, pointing out that for every dollar going towards renewables, there are five or six going to fossil fuels: “How smart is that?”

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