The European Parliament seeks to restrict hydraulic fracturing while France's Constitutional Council upholds hydraulic fracturing ban

On October 9, 2013, the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, France, voted (with 328 for and 311 against) to tighten rules on hydraulic fracturing by requiring a full environmental impact assessment from oil and gas companies seeking permits to use the process. An assessment would even be required for exploratory drilling. Another round of voting in the Parliament is required to finalize the rules. In the environmental assessment, the oil and gas companies must identify and describe the direct and indirect effects of the project on the population, human health, biodiversity, land, soil, water, air, and the landscape. The member state’s oil and gas authority must make a decision about issuing a permit within 90 days of receipt, and only after considering comments from the public and other interested parties, including independent, qualified and technically competent experts.

The European Parliament’s proposed rules are being met with opposition from oil and gas companies who see the rules as an expensive hurdle to doing business with the member nations. These companies may turn to other areas of the world to develop shale gas in order to avoid the extensive assessment reporting requirements, which may take as much as one year to prepare. It is thought by some that the rules are a reaction to a recent report (released September 30, 2013) from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which stated that methane gas is 86 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Two days after the European Parliament vote, on October 11, 2013, the French Constitutional Council, which is made up of judges and former French presidents and has the power to deem a law unconstitutional, reviewed the French legislature’s 2011 ban on hydraulic fracturing. The Council upheld the ban. France’s environmental minister applauded the decision as an environmental and political victory while oil and gas industry groups complained that the ruling deprives the country of needed oil and gas exploration and development. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated that France has 137 trillion cubic meters of technical recoverable shale gas and 4.7 billion barrels of technical recoverable shale oil in the Paris basin and the Rhone Valley.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.