The Government's plans to exploit shale gas reserves through the controversial fracking process have been dealt a blow after the EU climate officials warned the UK over the damaging effects of methane gas created by the process, reports The Telegraph.
In an interview with the paper, the Director General of the European Commission's climate division warned that the methane produced by fracking could have a devastating effect on the ozone layer and make a major contribution to global warming.
Methane is some 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period, although this drops to 25 times more potent over 100 years owing to the shorter atmospheric lifetime of methane gas.
The EU is currently drafting legislation to regulate the extraction of shale gas via the process of fracking, something that the UK Government is keen to press ahead with.
The EU has already passed a tough new rule that will oblige fracking companies to conduct an environmental audit at every stage during the fracking process, including when a site is simply being explored for viability.
It is thought that the EU's new legislative code is likely to be restrictive, largely due to widespread opposition to the fracking process that exists across the EU.
Britain has no veto over EU climate change policy and so would be duty-bound to adhere to rules passed in Brussels by a qualified majority vote system, which allows a motion to be passed providing there is a majority of countries, weighted votes and effective support from a majority of the population of the EU.
The UK already has a code of regulation for shale gas producers that is claimed to be one of the toughest in the world, prompting one commentator to tell The Telegraph that the industry was not frightened of Brussels.
"The UK already has the most stringent fracking rules in the world. We haven't seen anything yet from the EU that really frightens us," said Jason Nisse of the UK Onshore Operators Group.
The EU is grappling with rising energy prices that are threatening to derail Europe's manufacturing competitiveness, at a time when the United States is rapidly becoming energy independent, allowing it to drive its production costs down.