Diary of a Delegation

In March I along with other MEPs on the Industry Committee participated in a delegation to Washington and Pennsylvania with a specific focus on energy and shale gas and to a lesser extent on net neutrality.

Monday 16th March

European Parliament Liaison Office with the US Congress, Washington DC

The first meeting of the delegation was a briefing by the European Parliament Liaison Office on the current US political situation with particular emphasis on energy and climate policies. The ongoing TTIP negotiations were also discussed in this context. It was noticeable that TTIP was being not being presented as an immediate issue for the US.

We also discussed the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (December 2015, Paris), where apparently the USA will not be accepting legally binding targets.

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American Petroleum Institute, Washington DC

That evening we had a working dinner with Eric Milito of the American Petroleum Institute. He provided the delegation with an introduction to the ‘shale revolution’ (fracking) in the US. The Hazardous Products Act places a legal requirement on suppliers of any chemical intended for use in a workplace to transmit a Material Safety Data Sheet, but apparently there is no legal requirement for companies to disclose what kind of chemicals they are using in extraction. We were also informed that shale gas extraction is only regulated at state level, which could have serious health and environmental consequences.

Tuesday 17th March

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

We travelled to Pennsylvania to visit the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (the state regulatory body that protects Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and provides for the health and safety of its citizens). We received a presentation on Pennsylvania’s shale geology, including current data on shale drilling and production, the process of inspections, laws and regulations and any violations of those laws.

Non-Governmental Organisations, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

That afternoon we met with representatives of NGOs working on these issues:

  • Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) which was created to assist and support Washington County residents who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities. No national health registry has been established to assess the impacts of shale gas extraction.
    Clean Water Action, a grassroots environmental organisation which was very much against fracking – concerned that shale gas extraction can contaminate ground water supplies.
    The National Wildlife Federation, an NGO looking at nature conservation and reversing global warming. Shale gas is largely methane, and therefore, the CO2 it produces may contribute to global warming, although less so than coal. However, of more concern to the NWF are the leaking emissions of unburned methane, which would otherwise be trapped under the ground.

That evening we had a working dinner on the economics, workforce and business development of shale energy with Jon Laughner of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), an education and research initiative on unconventional gas plays.

Wednesday 18th March

Visit to shale drilling, fracking and compression sites, Utica field, Ohio

On Wednesday 18th March we travelled to Utica Field in Ohio to visit shale drilling, fracking and compression sites operated by TOTAL and Chesapeake. On the way to the sites we saw signs of visible poverty even as we entered Ohio despite the promise that fracking would deliver jobs to communities. While we were there we had a guided visit of the sites before heading back to Washington.

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American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations

That evening, with the assistance of Elina Kaartinen from the ITRE Secretariat, we had a dinner with Brad Markell and Celeste Drake, from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

16-20 March 15 - ITRE Delegation to Washington DC - AFL-CIO, Brad Markell and Celeste Drake

They informed us that they were in favour of fracking as shale gas contributes $76 billion to the overall GDP of the US with millions of jobs (38,380 jobs in Ohio in the 15 years they’ve been fracking) created.

We spoke at length about the EU’s proposed Energy Union, which would make energy more secure, affordable and sustainable across Europe. Brad and Celeste stressed that any energy transition needs to be a just transition for workers (in line with S&D policy).

Thursday 19th March

Seminar on energy security, Washington DC

We started the day with a breakfast seminar on “Energy Security – EU and US perspectives” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We discussed the need to empower the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) and to increase energy security, promote renewables and combat energy poverty.

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Meeting with secretariat of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Washington DC

Later that morning we headed over to Congress and met with members of the secretariat of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to exchange views on common energy problems and ways to look for solutions.

US Department of Energy (DOE), Washington DC

This was followed by a meeting at the US Department of Energy with Chris Smith, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Fuels, and Nicholas Sherman, Coordinator for the US-EU Energy Council. We discussed US ‘shale boom’, current research priorities (development of a new generation of environmentally sound technologies), challenges (increasing frequency of earthquakes following the drilling of wells for disposal of waste from shale gas/oil extraction) and need for suite of options, including renewables, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage, to combat climate change.

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The US Department of Energy provides $5.9 billion of funding for precompetitive research in science, protecting basic and fundamental research. This meeting really underlined the importance of safeguarding Horizon 2020 in Europe. There is also no consistent way of monetising carbon capture and storage, which is also an issue at European level.

Meeting with Congressman McCaul, Washington DC

That afternoon we were back at Congress for a meeting with Congressman Michael McCaul (Texas, Republican) – Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and member of the Committee on Science and Technology. We discussed energy supply and technology transfer.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Washington DC

Our final visit of the trip was to the Federal Communications Commission. This was created to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. There was a strong focus on consumer protection as well as a discussion on rules for broadband providers (e.g., bans on ISPs prioritising content and services of ‘affiliates’ and preventing internet traffic being limited/favoured).

Conclusions

After an action packed four days of meetings, visits, discussions and debates, we still have many unanswered questions. What are the long-term disadvantages and advantages of shale gas extraction? Is shale gas extraction really better for our environment and a revolutionary alternative to traditional fossil fuels? Would shale gas extraction solve our energy security concerns? But most crucial of all, can we count on shale gas extraction to be safe for our current and future generations of workers and citizens?

While shale gas may have a role to play in improving our energy supply and energy security, we remain unconvinced while environmental and health concerns are at worst unknown and at best unaddressed.

Europe’s Energy Union needs to have quality jobs and growth, and to address energy poverty at its centre. Fundamental to the debate is that climate and energy are two sides of the same coin. Also, we need to ensure that in TTIP we have workable transatlantic work councils, which would stand up for the worker.