In mid-March 2014 the European parliament voted on new environmental impact assessment rules to make that region more competitive without compromising on the environment, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) says.

“While not imposing unnecessary requirements on the upstream oil and gas industry, the new rules will guarantee that any development, including exploration for shale gas, will be subject to strict environmental standards,” Roland Festor, OGP’s director for EU affairs, says.

The new rules confirmed the existing differentiation between exploration and production of hydrocarbons. It will ensure that the requirements for environmental protection become more stringent as a project progresses. This way, time and resources will be applied where they matter; on full environmental studies once a project’s economic potential is confirmed and its development is going ahead.

Too many detailed requirements during the early phase of exploration – when commercial viability of a project is totally uncertain and operations limited – would have undermined key investments, without bringing any additional benefit to the environment.

“The vote is a positive first step in enabling the assessment of domestic energy resources. Opportunities such as natural gas from shale must be explored and, if promising, will be crucial to encourage future economic growth and create new jobs,” Festor says.

“Shale gas exploration is even more crucial now that the EU is devising its 2030 climate and energy policy. Gas is the best resource Europe has – cleaner-burning, reliable and immediately available – to help meet EU emissions reduction targets quickly and at a competitive cost versus alternatives.”

Shale gas development could have other significant benefits for Europe. According to a recent study, domestic EU development could create as many as 1.1 million jobs by 2050, while reducing the region’s dependence on energy imports and relatively lowering prices.

The OGP represents most of the world’s leading publicly-traded, private and state-owned oil and gas companies, oil and gas associations and major upstream service companies. Its members produce more than half the world’s oil, about one third of its gas and account for trillions of US dollars in revenue.