On March 12, 2014, the European Parliament (EU) supported a proposed update to make environmental impact assessments (EIAs) clearer, to ensure that EIAs take into account biodiversity and climate change, and to involve the public via a central web portal.

Approximately 200 types of projects are covered in the directive, including bridges, ports, roadways, and landfill sites.

Shale gas projects, including hydraulic fracturing, were not included in the legislation.

However, according to the EU’s press release, “new aspects of gas projects will have to be taken into account, notably the risks to human health due to water contamination, use of soil and water as well as the quality and regenerative capacity of water underground. If member states conclude that no assessment is needed, then they will have to state the reasons why.”

The fact that shale gas development is not referenced in the updated directive is seen as indicating that the EU is concerned with energy security.

The EU wants its member countries to become self-sufficient for their energy needs and not rely on other countries, especially Russia, to supply their oil and gas.

This is particularly true in light of the geopolitical unrest in the Ukraine. Approximately 16 percent of Europe’s natural gas flows through the Ukraine.

The updated EIA directive provides flexibility for the divergent views among the member countries about shale gas exploration, which views include France banning hydraulic fracturing and the UK and Poland actively seeking development of their shale gas resources.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.