New German Fracking Law Before the Summer Recess?

The ruling Conservative/Social Democrat Coalition is planning to establish a legal framework for the controversial fracking technology before the summer break, various media report refering to information by the news agency dpa that claims to be in possession of a letter by Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) to the head of the parliamentary budget committee Gesine Lötzsch (Linke) on the matter. No information was provided on how the matter shall be dealt with during the remaining short period of time.

According to the information, strict requirements shall apply such as an environmental impact assessment and a ban in water protection areas. “Further requirements for fracking permits are still being examined internally”, Minister Garbriel is quoted as having said. The rules could enter into force in 2015, the media say. They point out that due to the strong opposition to fracking, the coalition agreement between the conservative CDU/CSU parties and the Social Democrats (SPD) was very restrictive on the matter. The agreement called fracking “a high-risk technology”, the impact of which had not been sufficiently examined. The coalition partners dismissed the use of toxic substances for fracking purposes, saying applications could only be processed if there was sufficient data to establish beyond doubt that there would be no negative impact for water quality. According to media reports the Economics and Energy Ministry said in response to an inquiry made after the rumours on a legal framework had emerged that drinking water and health had top priority, therefore one opposed the use of toxic substances for fracking.

The fracking technology is a mining technique which creates fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting a liquid (usually water) mixed with sand and chemicals into cracks in the rock to force them further open, thus making it possible to extract nat­ural gas and oil that lies within rock for­ma­tions deep beneath the earth’s surface. While the technique lead to a gas boom in the US, environmental concerns, mainly regarding drinking water, have so far prevented to introduce a specific legal regime in Germany.

A study carried out in 2012 by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) on the potential of shale gas in Germany from May 2012 identified shale gas deposits of between 6.8-22.6 trillion cubic meters, with a median value of 13 trillion cubic meters of gas in place. Assuming a technically recoverable rate of 10%, this leads to between 0.7 and 2.3 trillion cubic meters, with a median of 1.3 trillion cubic meters.

In 2013 the then ruling Conservative/Liberal government made an attempt to regulate fracking. The Economics Ministry lead by Liberal Economics Minister Philipp Rösler and the Environment Ministry lead by Conservative Peter Altmaier agreed on a joint proposal, which provided for strict conditions for fracking, making an environmental impact assessment and the involvement of the water authorities and agreement with them mandatory as well as outlawing fracking in drinking water protection areas. It thus resembled very much what shall now become law according to the rumors. Yet the opposition, which at the time included the Social Democrats, called the proposal still too far-reaching and members of the ruling CDU coalition partner also asked for still stricter conditions. Hence, the Conservative/Liberal government finally decided not to agree on the bill, which was consequently not submitted to Parliament.

For the time being fracking projects have to be approved by the competent mining authorities pursuant to existing mining law.

In 2012 the state of North Rhine-Westphalia decided to stop granting permits for fracking for the time being, citing insufficient information about the technology and possible risks to the environment. The government of state of Lower Saxony, which has some of the highest gas resources in Germany, has however presented a draft of a decree allowing fracking under strict conditions in March 2014. German EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has urged Germany for some time to test the latest fracking technologies.

In view to the upcoming parliamentary summer break, getting a “fracking law” respectively amendments to various laws like the Federal Water Resources Act (WHG) and the Ordinance on Environmental Impact Assessments Concerning Mining Projects (UVP-V) through Parliament and the Federal Council, seems challenging. One possible way would be to add the amendments to other bills that have already been submitted to parliament.

Source: Spiegel Online

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