Germany has a moratorium on the use of fracking technology to extract unconventional fossil fuels but the method is not banned, something the country’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) hopes to change with swift regulation. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Maria Krautzberger, the President of the Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA), presented the organisation’s new Fracking-II assessment in Berlin on Wednesday (30 July).
Her conclusions were clear-cut. “As long as crucial risks related to this technology cannot be predicted and likewise cannot be controlled, fracking should not be used in Germany to extract shale and coalbed gas,” she said.
“Fracking is and remains a risky technology. For this reason it requires tight safeguards to protect the environment and health,” Krautzberger said in a statement.
Shale gas is touted as a welcome alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The technology is backed by employers organisations, which argue shale exploitation in Europe can decrease dependency on imported gas from Russia at a time when tensions with Moscow are at their highest since the Cold War.
But German politicians, backed by an ecologically-mindful public, are worried about the environmental damages caused by fracking.
In a recent joint paper, the German Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel and the Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks agreed on a fracking moratorium until 2022, covering unconventional shale and coalbed gas deposits up to 3,000 metres. The agreement contained exemptions for research and development projects.
In Krautzberger’s opinion, the guidelines tabled by the two ministers should now quickly be transposed into law.
“Up until now we do not have any clear legal requirements for fracking technology. This is a highly unsatisfactory situation that should be promptly ended by lawmakers,” Krautzberger said.
“A central component of the planned changes must be a ban on gas extraction from shale and coalbed deposits by means of an amendment to the Federal Water Act. In addition, an environmental impact assessment and a ban for water protection sites should be enforced for every form of fracking, without exception,” she continued.
The Environment Agency recommended a comprehensive risk assessment of all fracking projects for gas and crude oil extraction, which would also apply to experimental measures.
These assessments should become an essential component of an environmental impact assessment, the agency argued, that should be legally standardised according to the guidelines of the German ministries for the economy and environment.
Like the ministries, the UBA continues to insist on a ban for every form of fracking in water protection areas and natural spring protection zones but also in other sensitive areas like drainage basins for seas and reservoirs, nature conservation areas and FFH areas, without exception.
In terms of climate protection, the UBA is also critical of the fracking boom in the United States.
“Fracking technology is not a saviour for climate protection that can facilitate the transition to renewable energy sources. It would be better if our country would concentrate more strongly on proven environmentally-friendly energy sources like renewables. Our buildings, where fracking gas is used for heating, should also be made more energy-efficient to reduce overall gas consumption. Then we would not even need fracked gas.”
In light of the assessment published yesterday, the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) claimed fracking should not be allowed in Germany.
“Previous assessments uncover more questions than they answer. In the foreseeable future, it will not be possible to adequately assess all the risks related to fracking. As a result we are calling for a clear ban on fracking technology in Germany – in unconventional and conventional deposits,” said NABU president Olaf Tschimpke.
Even a handful of selected demonstration plans or strict security and monitoring regulations cannot rule out security risks, he indicated.
“In that sense, the opinion paper from minister Gabriel and minister Hendricks is already obsolete,” said Tschimpke.
The details over scientific evaluation mentioned in last year’s coalition agreement between Germany’s ruling centre-right and social democrats will remain unresolved far into the future, he argued.
NABU is calling for a clear ban on fracking technology in Germany.
“Conventional extraction of natural gas already holds considerable risks. Consequential damages continue to crop up. It is absolutely unacceptable that exploitation of unconventional deposits is even being considered,” said NABU energy expert Tina Mieritz.
The UBA study is part of a large environmental research project. The first portion was already presented in August 2012. Researchers studied the effects of fracking on the water supply and clearly outlined the risks for ground and drinking water.
A spokesman for the Environment Ministry said on Wednesday (30 July): “We will carefully review the study and conclude with a rating. In general, the assessment reveals risks related to the technology but also shows further research is needed.”
The first study advised against employing large-scale fracking in Germany. In the second part, researchers addressed questions regarding the groundwater, chemicals used in the process and disposal of production waste.
Shale gas is an "unconventional" fossil fuel that is found within natural fissures and fractures underground. Until recently, no method of safely transporting it to the surface existed.
It is mined via hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", the process of breaking apart layers of shale by horizontally pumping liquids and a number of volatile and toxic chemical additives under high pressure thereby releasing trapped gas reserves.
To proponents, shale gas represents an untapped and welcome alternative energy source to traditional fossil fuels. To detractors it is a hazardous and highly-polluting fossil fuel.
- Umweltbundesamt (UBA): Regulate fracking now [in German]