Fear is in the air in Germany – a fear of fracking and its consequences for soil and groundwater.
Initiatives have been organized around the country to prevent the extraction of domestic natural gas reserves by fracking. Federal state environment ministers have sought to change mining laws and tighten the water act, while the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) is openly calling for a ban.
The water act is designed to ensure drinking water remains healthy. Certainly, basic concerns about potential risks apply here, but, in fact, fracking is not a new technology and certainly not a high-risk process. We have been fracking in Germany for more than 50 years, predominantly to extract natural gas, without any harm to our groundwater.
It is indisputable that German prosperity rests on available energy and that the country’s energy supply will still require fossil energy in the future. But it is an illusion to think we can use 100 percent renewable energies. Natural gas makes an essential contribution as a stable and cheap energy supply. Its carbon dioxide balance is much better than that of coal or oil. The importance of natural gas will continue to grow as Germany backs away from nuclear power and reduces coal-fired power generation independent of the expansion of renewable energies.
Concerns should be taken seriously and there is a good argument to be made for putting off the large-scale use of fracking methods, at least at first, to extract shale gas.
Germany currently is a natural gas importer, primarily from Russia. Germany and Europe’s dependency on natural gas imports is constantly increasing while domestic natural gas production has been declining for years. But if domestic natural gas reserves can be safely tapped, they harbor great potential in terms of supply security and Germany’s economic performance.
Exploitation of domestic natural gas reserves would keep energy costs stable for companies, helping support their international competitiveness. Consumers also would profit from stable and affordable electricity and heating costs.
A responsible use of domestic natural gas reserves demands research and development focused on developing environmentally friendly fracking technologies. It is good that the governing parties in Germany’s ruling left-right coalition have agreed to make research on fracking possible to determine the unresolved impact on people, nature and the environment.
Concerns should be taken seriously and there is a good argument to be made for putting off the large-scale use of fracking methods, at least at first, to extract shale gas. Measures to test these extraction methods must be taken to determine any possible risks involved. Yet the latest legislative initiatives cause serious concerns about whether we are dealing with a total ban on fracking technology, since the majority of the planned regulations make scientifically supervised testing close to impossible.
The author was German Minister for Economics and Technology. He can be reached at gastautor@handelsblatt