Following years of deliberation, the European Union released a Recommendation on unconventional hydrocarbons and a related Communication in 2014. Although these documents are not legally binding on member states, they are nevertheless of great significance as they indicate, for the first time, the current and likely future stance of EU institutions on the regulation of unconventional hydrocarbons. The paper will trace the origins and development of these documents, as they provide vital clues for the road ahead in European shale gas regulation.

Given the long-standing absence of specific European regulation on unconventional hydrocarbons, a range of different views on the applicability of the existing regulatory framework evolved. The paper highlights the main pillars of the system, which constitute the foundations of the 2014 Recommendation on unconventional hydrocarbons. The paper will conclude that the European Commission resisted numerous calls for implementation of an unnecessarily intrusive and legally questionable set of new rules. Instead, it adopted a flexible and sufficiently open approach to unconventional hydrocarbons extraction. The 2014 Recommendation may hence be characterized as a successful balancing act, which leaves member states with considerable leeway for implementing their own regulatory strategies, while providing much-needed assurance for investors that Europe will not be “closed for shale business”.

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