Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why Europe’s Environment Might Be Better Off If Britain Leaves

A European, right, and Union flags are displayed outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices, in London, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Britain votes whether to stay in the European Union in a referendum on Thursday. (Credit: AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Click to Enlarge.
As Britons head to the voting booth Thursday to consider whether or not to stay in the European Union, some environmentalists are saying that a so-called Brexit vote could pave the way for more fracking in the United Kingdom.

The argument makes sense.  If Britain leaves the E.U., it leaves the E.U.’s regulatory framework.  There are at least 15 provisions in E.U. law that apply to fracking’s environmental impact, including directives that allow for water protections, limit the chemicals in fracking, and guide wastewater disposal.  The U.K. would no longer be beholden to these standards.

“Weak and patchy as they are, the U.K.’s fracking regulations could be even worse without the bedrock provided by over a dozen separate E.U. directives,” said Hannah Martin, energy campaigner at Greenpeace.  “If Britain leaves the E.U., this last bulwark of environmental protection would be at the mercy of a government that has stopped at nothing to help the fracking industry.”

But at the same time, it might not matter whether the U.K. stays or goes, as far as fracking is concerned.

That’s because Martin is right:  The conservative government at the helm of the United Kingdom wants fracking, and it wants it now.  Government leaders have made no secret of this.  Natural gas is at the heart of the country’s plan to transition away from coal-fired power plants, and there is a strong push for “energy independence” — which means no more natural gas imported from Qatar.  Critics are skeptical that the country could ever frack its way to energy independence, but the government seems bent on trying.

Ironically, though, Brexit could reduce the potential for fracking in other places in the E.U.  As the E.U. works towards additional standards on the practice, losing the U.K. voice could help smooth the way for stronger environmental regulation.

“In recent years, the U.K. Government has been a leader in lobbying against tougher E.U. fracking regulation, so Brexit could mean one fewer opponent for the regulation that is needed,” Tony Bosworth, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told ThinkProgress via email.

Read more at Why Europe’s Environment Might Be Better Off If Britain Leaves

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