Berlin fracking bill criticised ahead of UN climate talks

15800968120_771edb500a_o.jpg [WildEarth Guardians/Flickr]

For months, the German government has been working on a bill that would legalise fracking. But environment and health advocates warn that it sends the wrong message ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Sharp criticism has been directed at a government proposal for a law to permit exploitation of crude oil and natural gas using the controversial fracking technique.

Not only do the proposed draft regulations neglect the protection of human beings, nature and water, warned environmental organisations such as BUND, NABU and the Allianz der öffentlichen Wasserwirtschaft (AÖW) at a meeting in Berlin.

On top of that, they said, the intention to boost a conventional method of energy production contradicts Germany’s pledge to focus on expansion of renewable energy sources.

Placebo rather than serious nature and energy protection

“The German government’s proposals for a fracking regulation are nothing more than a placebo,” said Liselotte Unseld, secretary-general of the German League for Nature, Animal Protection and Environment (DNR).

In the medium and long-term, fracking cannot be prevented in this way, she warned, adding that the government’s drafts for a legislative bill contradict climate, energy and nature conservation policy goals.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel plan to prohibit fracking in so-called sensitive areas, which are vital as sources of drinking water or for conservation purposes.

The measure would also not allow fracking, which uses a chemical mix to fracture rock, to be carried out above 3,000 metres. In this way, drinking water pollution is ruled out. Fracking techniques would, however, be allowed for research purposes exceeding a depth of 3,000 metres – as long as it is permitted by mining and water authorities. A certificate from an independent expert commission confirming trial drillings as successful could then result in commercial use of fracking technology in isolated cases.

Germany’s governing coalition, consisting of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) as well as the Social Democratic Party (SPD), emphasised that the legslation places the utmost value on water and health protection.

Proposal runs counter to climate protection efforts

Gudrun Kordecki, from the consortium of environment representatives in Germany’s evangelical church, takes a different view. She said these areas are not the only ones where the German government is taking significant risks. Berlin is also contradicting all efforts made for climate protection, Kordecki argued.

“If unconventional natural gas deposits are exploited using fracking, this will be the wrong kind of message for the UN Climate Conference scheduled to take place in Paris in December,” she pointed out.

Germany, Kordecki said, should leave these gas reserves in the ground for future generations and, instead, invest in renewable energy sources and consistently expand strategies for energy efficiency and sufficiency.

The centre-right and SPD had agreed in the coalition agreement “to push the shift from an economy primarily based on fossil fuels to one built on renewable resources and efficient, thereby supporting the Energiewende”.

>>Read: Massive fossil fuels cut is last chance to limit global warming, researchers say

A recent study indicated that this path is necessary to reach the country’s climate protection targets. To do this, the majority of fossil fuels still available must be left in the ground, the study’s authors said.

“Law would be tailored to the gas industry”

Oliver Kalusch from the Network Against Gas Drilling accused the German government of ignoring such findings. “The German government wants to create a fracking law that is tailored to the gas industry,” he criticised.

Similar criticism of the fracking bill was heard from within the government’s own ranks.

CDU representatives criticise weak fracking restrictions

“I assume that the SPD ministers have hurried ahead to draft weak fracking restrictions because they are under pressure from the allied Union for Mining, Chemicals and Energy,” CDU Bundestag MP Andreas Mattfeldt told the Rheinische Post.

Mattfeldt called for considerably higher hurdles for the controversial technology. “By no means do the planned restrictions go far enough,” said Mattfeldt. He called for the regulations to be adapted to fit the new level of technology.

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.

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