* EU member states expected to endorse in coming weeks
* Some EU nations want shale as alternative to Russian gas
* New assessment factors include biodiversity, impact on climate change
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, March 12 EU politicians on Wednesday voted for tougher rules on exposing the environmental impact of oil and conventional gas exploration, while excluding shale gas.
Member states such as Britain and Poland are pushing hard for the development of shale gas, seen as one way to lessen dependence on Russian gas, as well as to lower energy costs as it has in the United States.
The plenary vote of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France follows a compromise deal on the draft law in December, which was struck only after negotiators agreed to leave out references to shale gas.
Member states are expected to give their endorsement over the coming weeks, after which the law will become final.
Under the planned law, assessments of a range of infrastructure projects, as well as oil and gas, will include their impact on biodiversity and climate change, plus measures to ensure authorities granting approval have no conflict of interest.
Industry said the new law avoided placing too many restrictions on projects during their early phases when commercial viability is unclear.
"While not imposing unnecessary requirements on the upstream oil and gas industry, the new rules will guarantee that any development, including exploration for shale gas, will be subject to strict environmental standards," Roland Festor, director for EU affairs at the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, said.
Shale Gas Europe, which brings together companies such as Chevron, Total and Cuadrilla Resources, also welcomed the law.
"Shale gas could potentially play an important role in meeting Europe's acute energy challenges," Marcus Pepperell, spokesman for Shale Gas Europe, said.
Green politicians, however, said the decision to leave out shale gas was a major setback and that the fracking process, which involves using chemicals to extract gas from the shale rock, posed risks to health and the environment.
"The Greens believe there is already sufficient evidence to ban fracking but ensuring informed permit decisions through the environmental impact assessment procedure must be the absolute minimum," Sandrine Belier, environment spokeswoman for the European Greens, said.