Monday, August 22, 2022

Germany: politicians shun fracking-option to mitigate gas import problems

As Germany is severley affected by the cut-back of russian piped gas and also in the light of ethical consideration the fracking-option, banned in 2017, is again put forward. However politicians and lawmakars are reluctant: WELT:

Germany is stuck in the natural gas crisis and is dependent on Russian supplies, which are being reduced. The focus is on Germany's own resources: Huge amounts of natural gas lie beneath Germany, which geologists say could supply the country for decades.

The energy reserves could be tapped by fracking. But the previous federal government banned the drilling technology in 2017, even though scientific reports had also shown fracking to be practicable in Germany.

The ban is not set in stone, according to the Water Resources Act it should be reconsidered: The German Bundestag was obliged to review the appropriateness of the fracking ban as early as 2021 - "on the basis of the current state of science and technology", as the law states . However: That did not happen – despite the gas crisis.

When asked by WELT, the Bundestag pointed out that the “Fracking Expert Commission” only submitted its report from 2021 at the end of June, on the basis of which advice should be given. The factions of the parties represented in the Bundestag would now decide when the parliamentary deliberations would take place.

However, the “Fracking Expert Commission” had already submitted a report in 2020. In it, the scientists determined the legal situation: "In 2021, the German Bundestag will review the appropriateness of the ban on unconventional fracking based on the current state of science and technology". So why didn't the Bundestag take action in 2021?

Inquiries from WELT to the responsible bodies of the parties did not result in an answer. The only thing that is clear is that a date for examining the fracking ban has not yet been agreed.

"Nothing will happen before September after the end of the summer break," says an SPD employee. The Fracking Commission's report already has a printed matter number, but it has not yet been referred to a committee.

It will probably be "decided in one of the session weeks in September which committee will be responsible for the treatment, whether the committee for climate and energy or the environment committee," explains an expert from the CDU. After that, “the further procedure would be decided”.

The opposition also shows little interest

The parties' interest in fracking seems low, and even the opposition isn't putting any pressure on it. The deputy federal chairman of the CDU and spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group for climate protection and energy, Andreas Jung, sees the review of the fracking ban as "a statutory mandate". However, he rejects fracking, despite the lack of natural gas: The technology has been put under lockdown in Germany "for good reason because of the threatening effects on the environment and nature".

Scientists, meanwhile, have tried again to put fracking on the political agenda. The Professional Association of German Geoscientists wanted to provide information about the technology and its potential before the federal press conference this summer, but the board of directors of the federal press conference refused, according to WELT information in July.

Researchers had repeatedly given the green light for fracking in Germany. "As long as we need natural gas in Germany, it's - to put it mildly - a prank that we don't mine it here," says the former President of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, raw materials expert Hans-Joachim K├╝mpel. Domestic fracking gas could "considerably reduce the blatant import dependency".

In fracking, rock in the ground is broken up with a liquid to extract natural gas. The technology has a bad reputation, although it has been tried and tested for decades and there are hardly any problems now.

An international body of geological associations has complained in its "Copenhagen Declaration" about "frequent misleading media reports about shale gas exploration and exploitation" in the face of many false reports about alleged environmental damage, which "can lead to bad decisions for society".

Reports by scientists from German research institutes all came to the conclusion that the risks involved in fracking could be easily managed if certain regions were excluded from funding: regions where drinking water is obtained, fracture zones and earthquake zones should be avoided. In addition, gas reservoirs should not be tapped above 1000 meters in order to maintain the distance to the groundwater.

Fracking technology has been tried for decades. According to the industry, around 300 fracking operations were carried out in Germany in order to get more natural gas out of ordinary deposits. There weren't any problems.

As recently as 2012, the SPD parliamentary group had demanded that "the development of new natural gas sources must remain possible". The federal government developed a concept according to which criteria fracking funding should be approved.

The fact that the energy treasure was not salvaged under Germany was mainly due to the protest by climate protectionists against the promotion of fossil fuels, and on the other hand to the protest against fracking. Alarmed by media reports about the protests, citizens had put pressure on their constituency MPs to prevent fracking.

In the current natural gas emergency, scientists are again pleading for the extraction technology. "In view of the political situation, Germany should frack," says energy researcher Mohammed Amro from the Bergakademie Freiberg. Within a year Germany could start producing shale gas. In five years, the production rate could be increased to such an extent that Germany could cover a fifth of its natural gas requirements with domestic fracking gas, says Amro.

"Federal government does not put all options on the table"

Occasionally, some politicians are now joining the scientists. "In the current difficult situation, the federal government is not putting all options on the table," says CDU MP Klaus-Peter Willsch to WELT. With German natural gas production, Russian imports "cannot be completely compensated for, but they could significantly reduce dependence on imports". He expects the federal government to "rapidly rethink".

However, it seems unlikely that the government will give in. With their report "Evaluation of the Fracking Regulation Package" last year, the Ministries for the Environment, Economics and Education apparently wanted to put an end to the fracking issue. The nine-page text concluded: "Overall, the provisions of the fracking regulatory package have proven their worth." Recommendations to change legislation would "not currently be made" - a revision of the ban would therefore be unnecessary.

However, the government cannot shake off fracking that easily. There is a “need for legal action”, states the legal scholar Michael Reinhardt from the University of Trier. Experts have attested to a "rather low and controllable risk for people, the environment and water" for fracking, which the legislature must include in a "complex proportionality test".

To hope that no one would protest in court to urge Parliament to take up the issue would be "inappropriate to the importance of the matter," writes Reinhardt. The German Bundestag is obliged to create a final regulation on fracking.

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