EurActiv: Fracking debate intensifies in Germany

Sigmar Gabriel hopes to introduce key points for the regulation of fracking in Germany before the Bundestag convenes for the summer. But critics claim the controversial gas extraction method is rightfully banned in Germany, warning of pollution, and claiming it would not bolster the country’s energy independence. EurActiv Germany reports.

In Germany, fracking is currently under heated debate. Over the course of the Ukraine crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the possibility of installing support methods for shale gas as an alternative to Russian gas.

Responding to this call, Vice Chancellor and Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced the prospect of drafting legal provisions to regulate the technology, which is currently not allowed in Germany.

But instead of hailing diversification efforts, critics accused Gabriel of allowing himself to be controlled by industry and ignoring the risks involved.

The unconventional process of shale gas fracking involves large quantities of water and sand, but also chemicals, pressed into a drill hole to release natural gas from deep layers of porous rock. One of the biggest fears of this method is that groundwater could be polluted by partially toxic or carcinogenic substances left over from the procedure.

But over the weekend, Gabriel covered his tracks: the fracking technology used in the United States and Canada, he said, will not be adopted in Germany. Together with the Environment Ministry, he said efforts are under way to tighten legal provisions in mining and water law.

At that time, Gabriel insisted that he hopes to draft key points before the summer break and have it up for approval by Fall of this year.

Eldorado for industry

As a result, the question of a ban has still not been ruled out. Fracking seems to be too lucrative for supporters.

But no one is certain as to how much gas lies in Germany’s deeply buried shale deposits. Estimates from Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) indicate up to 2.3 billion cubic metres of recoverable shale gas. This is an Eldorado for industry representatives: more gas and oil means more profit and the promise of lower prices for consumers.

With this in mind, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) is strongly emphasising that the discussion about gas recovery methods should be permitted.

“In light of the Ukraine crisis and the hurdles related to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), fracking is quite promising. Germany needs more energy independence”, said a representative from the BDI in a statement for EurActiv.de.

Independence from imports?

This argument is also convincing to the German government, which would gladly reduce the net import cost of oil, gas and hard coal amounting to roughly €90 million.

Here, the United States seems to be a successful role model – at least at first glance. “Drill, baby, drill!” were the words of US presidential candidate John McCain, hoping to boost the country’s energy independence.

And now it seems President Barack Obama has picked up the same motto. A significant share of the country’s economic recovery after the 2008 crisis can be attributed to cheaper energy.

Chemical waste in the groundwater and leaky drill holes

But not all risks associated with this method of gas extraction have been evaluated. Only a few test drills have been carried out in Germany so far.

The German government’s Council of Experts on Environmental Issues (SRU) emphasised in a study last year that “considerable questions remain open regarding the risks related to unconventional fracking”.

Gabriel repeatedly emphasised that strict constraints would accompany approval: an environmental impact assessment and a ban for water protection areas.

But a recent campaign conducted by the platform Campact titled “Stop Fracking” received over 300,000 signatures. It was a clear message to those who hope to get fracking approved in Germany that they will meet considerable resistance.

“Natural gas is praised as an efficient, abundant and low-CO2 energy source. But fracking requires risky processes that can have devastating effects on health and the environment,” said Chairman of the Greens in the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms.

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Source: EurActiv, 2014

 

 

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