German government puts forward strict law to regulate fracking

The German cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (April , 1) presented a draft law that would introduce strict requirements for production of unconventional oil and gas using hydraulic fracturing technique.

If approved by the Bundestag, the proposed legislation will ban commercial shale gas fracking until 2019 and only allow scientific test drilling to assess the risks and environmental impact.

According to Reuters, the law could allow commercial shale gas fracking in exceptional cases starting from 2019 only after successful test drilling and the approval of a special committee composed by six experts. The ban will be extended to all areas that supply drinking water, including dams and reservoirs, and fracking up to a depth of 3,000 meters will be prohibited.

An earlier draft law proposed by Environment Ministry last year set a longer ban compared with the current proposal, until 2021.

Fracking has been largely unregulated in Germany and surveys showed opposition to the technique and demand for strict environmental regulations remain strong in the country.

One of the biggest opponent of fracking in Germany are the brewers’ association and groups, arguing that fracking could endanger the quality of the ground water used for producing beer. According to Bloomberg Business, the beer industry in Germany generates incomes for 8 billion euro and it is protected by the oldest food-safety regulation still in force, the Reinheitsgebot drafted in 1516.

Major concerns over hydraulic fracturing are related to the amount of water used in the process and the risks of contamination of fresh and groundwater sources, as reported by Scientific American.

One the other hand, German industry lobbies including the VCI chemical union have called on the government to allow fracking, pointing out the positive impacts that unconventional oil and gas boom in the United States have had on US economy.

In France, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Czech Republic fracking was suspended in the past few years, often under concerns about public health and environmental effects. In UK the debate over banning fracking is currently underway, while Scotland already set out a moratorium in January. In February the EU Commission published Member States’ replies to a survey on measures they put in place in response to the 2014 Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The United States are the world’s leader in using the hydraulic fracturing process. The U. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a report (pdf) covering more than 39,000 disclosures made to the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry in the last two years. The study found there are nearly 700 chemicals used in the process.

(Image: Map showing fracking regulation underway during antifracking initiative, October 2014. Photo credit: Greens-EFA Group/Flickr)