The European Commission has endorsed the exploitation of unconventionals and called for the suspension of the Gazprom-led South Stream pipeline as part of a new energy security strategy for the European Union dominated by the issue of dependence on Russian energy.
South Stream is envisaged as a set of four parallel pipelines of 931 kilometres each, linking Russia and Europe with a total annual throughput capacity of 63 billion cubic metres of gas.
The Brussels-based EC, which is the executive branch of the 28-member state EU, had previously said in December that the South Stream pipeline was in breach of EU competition law and bilateral deals with its calling points - Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria - all needed to be redrawn.
It has since come to light that Volga Group, a company controlled by Gennady Timchenko, who is on the EU's Russia sanctions list, owns two-thirds of the Stroytransgaz consortium that is building the Bulgarian section of South Stream.
The commission is now calling for the outright suspension of the project.
The EC said the Russian-led pipeline “should be suspended until full compliance with EU legislation is ensured and re-evaluated in light of the EU's energy security priorities”.
While it did not require all members to conduct shale gas exploration, the commission did recommend in its new energy security strategy that as a key action member states should “exploit, where this option is chosen, unconventional hydrocarbons and clean coal”.
“Producing oil and gas from unconventional sources in Europe, and especially shale gas, could partially compensate for declining conventional gas production provided issues of public acceptance and environmental impact are adequately addressed,” the strategy said.
The EC reaffirmed its plans to launch a European science and technology network on unconventional hydrocarbon extraction as part of efforts to help develop the continent’s shale capabilities.
The EC also endorsed the exploitation of new conventional sources in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Accessing more diversified natural gas resources is a priority whilst maintaining significant import volumes from reliable suppliers,” the commission said, pointing out the union remained dependent on Russia for 39% of its gas imports or 27% of overall supply.
The EU is backing a number of infrastructure projects to increase integration between member states by adding reverse flows to pipelines to increase gas optionality in central and south-east Europe as well as boost gas capabilities in the Baltic region.
The wider strategy covered a number of other energy topics such as expanding renewable energy and increasing integration and co-operation between member states in several energy spheres including electricity markets.
Greenpeace criticised the EC strategy as a “timid attempt at rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” that failed to take any ambitious steps in favour of renewables.
Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Louise Hutchins said: “The bloc’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels is at the root of its energy problem, yet the Commission’s plan does little to tackle it. In fact, pointing to false solutions like fracking and new gas pipelines will only lock us into fossil fuel dependence for decades to come.”