The draft law on fracking currently being considered in Germany is the result of a protracted search for compromise. It provides little clarity, it is complicated and inconsistent. In fact, it’s a good example of a bad law.
The fact that some advocates of fracking can find positive aspects in the legal paper simply demonstrates the frustration levels in the business community.
No one in Germany wants to engage in exhaustive fracking, based on the U.S. model. Anyone who has seen pictures of fracking areas in the United States is immediately grateful for Germany’s high environmental standards. And not even the exploration companies want to question these standards.
But this law could make sure that fracking in shale and coal seams will remain an issue of secondary importance in Germany for years to come.
According to the draft, fracking will be forbidden – categorically and indefinitely – above 3,000 meters, which is the only place it could be interesting in Germany.
Exceptions can be made for experimental activities, which, if approved by a commission of experts, could then lead to approval for commercial fracking.
It is quite impossible for potential investors to predict what the majority decision of the commission of six experts will be.
That sounds good, initially. But what environmentalists are already criticizing as a gateway to exhaustive fracking, turns out to be a very vague option when looked at more closely. It is quite impossible for potential investors to predict what the majority decision of the commission of six experts will be.
The heterogenous composition of the commission has prepared the ground for highly-charged political debate about each individual drilling project. At the same time, the appointment of a commission by competent experts in the licensing authorities has to be seen as as a vote of no confidence in legal form.
On top of that, the decisions of the commission are not binding upon the licensing authorities of the states. So in essence, the legislature has created a superfluous parallel structure, which will delay the decisionmaking process.
Companies that will find the draft law particularly irritating must surely be those who have been working in Germany for half a century using a variation on the fracking method, i.e. pressing gas out of small cavities.
The Federal Institute for Geoscience and Raw Materials has counted 350 such activities since the early 1960s – and not registered one single accident.
Despite this, the draft law has come up with additional regulations for this proven variation of fracking. The companies concerned who have developed and used this technology responsibly and in an environmentally friendly way for decades must surely feel they are being ridiculed.
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