Shale Governance in the European Union: Principles and Practice

October 2014

The extraction of shale gas—mainly through the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—has become a central if contentious area of energy policy in the European Union (EU). Like their US counterparts, European policymakers are attracted by the potential huge economic and energy benefits of shale extraction, yet must also address dangers and risks associated with extracting natural gas from shale fields. How might policymakers govern this new policy area? Europe’s approach to shale gas governance is still in its infancy, but several guiding principles can be identified through an examination of the EU’s treaties, rules, policy principles, and practices. The most important governing principles include the precautionary principle, transparency, consultation/stakeholder “buy-in,” and environmental sustainability. Adoption of such governance principles provides useful guidelines for policymakers, and reassurance for the public. Positive lessons from their application can be applied to the US. But a close examination of their application in the EU suggests two important themes. First is the importance of context: how, when and why principles are applied will shape their effectiveness and impact. Secondly, the examination reveals that each of these principles is double-edged with clear advantages and clear limits. None alone will provide the “golden ticket” to effective shale governance.