Energy Extraction and Knowledge Production: The Role of Experts in a Polarized Regulatory Process

Wednesday 07 March 2018, 16:15 - 17:45.

This seminar has been cancelled.


Evidence-based policy-making is one of the general ideas that underpins Western societies. However, what if the evidence itself is contested? What if political debate and the subsequent legislative process cannot rely upon an undisputed set of facts based on which normative decisions concerning an acceptable level of risk can be based? Gathering uncontested factual evidence is essential in developing a sound basis for policy-making. During times where trust in experts can no longer be taken for granted, different types of cooperation mechanisms are set-up that seek to enable the development of a less contested factual basis. This paper examines one of these mechanisms in detail in order to determine whether it would be suitable for future technologies that are characterized by a degree of uncertainty as to their long-term effects.

In 2014 the European Commission and its Joint Research Centre launched a European Science and Technology Network for unconventional hydrocarbons. In the European Union the development of the shale gas extraction technology – i.e. one of these unconventional hydrocarbons – is characterised by substantial and polarized disputes. Controversies around shale gas extraction are exacerbated not only by a lack of reliable geological and environmental and health data related to the relatively early stage of exploratory drilling but also by public opposition and regulatory uncertainties. As a response to these uncertainties, the Network on unconventional hydrocarbon extraction was supposed to bring together “practitioners from industry, research, academia as well as civil society, so as to ensure a fair and balanced exchange of ideas.” The network was initially been established for a three year period from 2014-2017 to “operate in full transparency. Accordingly, reports, technical documents, minutes of meetings and summaries of conferences, workshops and seminars will be made available on the internet”. However it has been criticized as having been “taken over by industry groups which are using it as a platform to promote fracking”. It has been suspended before its official ending in 2017 and been subject to the EU Ombudsman’s investigation on whether it should have been set up as an official European expert group.

This paper assesses whether the strong representation of the industry is seen only in respect of shale gas, or whether it constitutes a systematic failure in European law-making? The presentation, drawing on first-hand observations from expert participation representing the academic sector in the UH-Network, analyses the case of the European Science and Technology Network for unconventional hydrocarbons in detail. It focuses on the role of the Network in knowledge production (mandate and setup) and on the investigation by the EU Ombudsman. The contribution has the objective of establishing general best and worst practice recommendations for EU energy and environmental law and policy making in general.

Dr Leonie Reins

Leonie Reins is an Assistant Professor at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (“TILT”) at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Previously she was a Post Doctoral Researcher at KU Leuven, Belgium where she also wrote her PhD thesis on the coherent regulation of energy and the environment in the EU. Leonie completed an LL.M. in Energy and Environmental Law at KU Leuven, and subsequently worked for a Brussels-based environmental law consultancy, providing legal and policy services for primarily public sector clients. Leonie’s research focuses on the intersections of energy and environmental law. She is particularly interested in the regulation of new technologies that are capable of mitigating, or providing means of adaptation to, climate change and connected risks and uncertainty at the local level. Leonie has researched the regulation of technologies such as shale gas, Carbon Capture and Storage (“CCS”) and nanotechnology, but she has also focused on regulatory initiatives that are designed to address climate change through fiscal or financial incentives, such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (“EU ETS”). As part of her research, she also addresses the regulation of renewable energy projects, such as hydro energy and offshore wind parks.