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European Union energy security was on the docket of last week’s Transport, Telecommunications, and Energy Council (TTE) meeting, and for good reason. Geo-political conflict around the world is threatening the portion of the energy supply that it imports from other nations. In an effort to eliminate its dependence on foreign energy sources a movement has been gaining momentum among member nations of the European Union to consider fracking as an alternative energy source.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is an underground mining technology that enables vast stores of natural gas to be accessed and brought to the surface where it can be processed into fuel. The chemicals used in fracking, however, have been shown to contain known carcinogens. Despite energy company protestations to the contrary, critics say a growing body of evidence suggests that fracking has been known to contaminate nearby ground water.
American environmental activist Josh Fox created two documentaries that examine the development of the fracking industry in the United States. The documentaries feature citizens who have leased their land to American energy companies only to find that their land and ground water had become polluted. Lab results revealed that samples of water taken from the homeowners’ sinks contained fracking chemicals. Possibly more compelling are scenes where a lighter, placed under a sink faucet or a garden hose, created a shooting flame.
Critics of Fox’s documentaries suggest that the economic benefits of extracting natural gas from underlying shale outweigh the alleged environmental impacts. They cite job creation and energy production leading to economic benefit and energy independence to explain their support of the practice of fracking.
Geography departments at universities have begun to publish studies linking a precipitous rise in the incidence of earthquakes with nearby fracking activity. Balancing the energy needs of nations with the environmental responsibility of land stewardship is no small feat. The adoption of what some consider to be a short-sighted preference of fast energy at the expense of safe water and solid footing seems to be gaining support in the European Union, however.
Fracking seems like a logical alternative that would allow EU members to rely less on Russia and the Middle East for its energy supply. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA), explorations in 2013 by Shell in Ukraine discovered that the country sits on a vast underground natural gas reserve. USEIA reports that by 2020 shale gas resources that are accessed by fracking will be available for domestic use in Ukraine, as well as for export to the European Union. Ukraine acts as a conduit for natural gas from Russia to the EU, with two large pipelines passing right through the middle of the country.
With tensions rising between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s desire to align itself with the EU, the supply of natural gas that passes through Ukraine from Russia could be at risk. It is little wonder that with this in mind the European Union considers fracking as a way of creating energy redundancies.
At the recent TTE meeting the EU council focused on developing strategic partnerships with Mediterranean energy partners. The crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union is not the only neighborly dispute that is creating obstacles for the EU. Sunni insurgents in Iraq and ever-increasing conflict in the Middle East create additional threats to a stable energy supply for the EU. Adam Memo is head of economic research at the free-market British think tank, Center of Policy Studies.
In a June 12 article in City A.M., Memon makes a case for fracking based on interests of Britain and the EU’s very real need for energy security. He is dismissive of fracking critics and characterizes them as having an apocalyptic view of earthquakes and water pollution. Valentin Mandrasescu, writing an opinion piece for Voice of Russia considers that the idea of the European Union moving toward fracking is a media campaign. Mandrasescu suggests that before offering support, the public needs to look at the European Union’s energy situation from a geopolitical and historical perspective. He comes to the conclusion that the key to energy security is for the West to stop igniting civil wars around the globe.
Opinion By Kaley Perkins