German Advisory Council on the Environment: Fracking Not Necessary for the Energiewende

In an expert opinion on the fracking technology by the Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen (German Advisory Council on the Environment; SRU) released today, SRU suggest to deal with the opportunities and risks of fracking “in a matter-of-fact way”. However, SRU considers the extraction of gas using fracking as not necessary for Germany’s energy policy transition towards a mainly renewable energy supply.

The use of the fracking method to extract shale gas in Germany would not lead to falling energy prices in Germany, and would not contribute significantly towards the security of supply. Therefore, Germany had no energy-related interest in promoting fracking, SRU states. According to present knowledge, the amounts of shale gas that could be extracted in an economically viable manner taking into account suitable environmental conditions for the projects were too small to influence gas prices in Germany, SRU believes (for the shale gas potentials in Germany identified by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), please see here). SRU says a revision of the energy and climate policy in view of inexpensive shale gas in the United States would not be advisable, and the effects on the industry were often overestimated.

Due to lack of knowledge concerning the environmental aspects of fracking, the technology should currently not been used commercially, SRU advises, adding the fracking could only be justified if pilot projects yielded positive results.

SRU has identified the following areas where it considers knowledge about fracking to be lacking:

  • The environmentally safe disposal of the waste water (flow back);
  • The safety of the drilling holes and the conveyor systems (Förderanlagen) with regard to ground water protection;
  • The long-term effects; and
  • The climate effects of shale gas.

For precautionary reasons fracking should not be allowed near existing or possible future drinking water protection areas, SRU says.

Pilot projects could bring new insight, but should be scientifically supported and evaluated, SRU demands, saying planning and implementation of these projects should be carried out in a transparent manner, involving the public. Costs should be borne according to the polluter pays principle.

When and under what conditions shale pilot projects using the fracking technology will be carried out in Germany is remains to be seen. The present coalition government is still struggling to agree on a draft law to address open issues. In late February the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) and the Federal Economics Ministry (BMWi) had presented a joint proposal in order to regulate the use of the controversial fracking method for the exploration and extraction of (shale) gas or oil or geothermal energy, setting strict conditions. The proposal provided for a mandatory environmental impact assessment, outlawed fracking in drinking water protection areas, and made the involvement of the water authorities and agreement with them mandatory. However, it is unclear when a bill will be introduced to parliament. According to media reports a bill would be facing strong opposition in parliament, as even members of the ruling coalition are opposed. The situation in the Federal Council is likely to be even more difficult, as in the Bundesrat representatives belonging to opposition parties have a majority.

In April German EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had warned that Germany risked losing its competitiveness given its hesitant stance towards energy issues such as fracking, geothermal energy and the CCS technology.

Source: Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen




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