UK's Cameron wants more fracking after Crimea 'wake-up call'
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Energy independence and the adoption of technologies like shale gas fracking should top Europe's political agenda, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday, calling the Crimea crisis a "wake-up call" for states reliant on Russian gas.
Escalating East-West tensions over Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine have endangered the energy security of some European states, including Germany, who are heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies.
"Some countries are almost 100 percent reliant on Russian gas, so I think it is something of a wake-up call," Cameron told reporters on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit on Tuesday.
A hastily-convened meeting of the G7 major industrialized nations on Monday agreed that ministers would work together to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.
On Tuesday, Cameron pointed to reserves of shale gas, which can be extracted by a process known as fracking, in south-eastern Europe, Poland and England as a means of boosting energy independence for the whole region.
"I think it's a good opportunity," he said. "Energy independence, using all these different sources of energy, should be a tier one political issue from now on, rather than tier five."
In Britain, fracking has been held up by public protests over the environmental impact of the technique, which involves blasting underground rock with high pressure liquid to release trapped gas. It has been banned outright in France and Bulgaria.
Although Britain only buys a small amount of gas from Moscow, Russia provides around one third of the EU's oil and gas and some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.
European Union leaders last week agreed to accelerate their quest for more secure energy supplies by looking to import gas from the United States and pooling their purchasing power to empower the bloc in negotiations with Moscow.
In the United States, a fracking revolution has - as well as spawning its own protest movement - helped energy prices tumble and spurred a manufacturing renaissance, something Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne have been keen to replicate.
But a hoped-for rise in gas production across Europe has been slow to develop, with estimates for Poland's reserves having been slashed along with the hiatus on fracking.
Cameron said on Tuesday that it was Britain's duty to get behind fracking, and that he was confident of winning the public around once the first drilling operations started to benefit the surrounding communities.
He said most of voters' concerns stemmed from a misunderstanding of the way that wells are tapped.
"When I look at a lot of the concerns expressed... I think there's a really good answer to all the questions. So I'm confident we'll win the argument," he said.
Environmental group Greenpeace criticized Cameron, calling his comments a cynical attempt to exploit the Ukraine crisis. Citing industry estimates, they said fracking would take at least a decade to reach a useful scale, and that even at that point it was likely to displace other gas sources rather than Russian imports.
(Additional reporting by Karolin Schaps, Editing by John Stonestreet)