Germany Bans Gas Shale Fracking: Not Enough, Says Environmental Group

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Germany’s coalition government voted to outlaw the controversial practice of gas shale fracking for at least five years. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it doesn’t actually ban shale gas fracking.

At first glance, Tuesday’s fracking ban looks like a good thing. It would be, save for the fact that the ban is temporary and incomplete. Hubert Weiger heads non-partisan, not-for-profit environmental protection group Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland/Friends of the Earth Germany, and he says that the ban which expires in 2021 does not reach far enough. One reason is because Tuesday’s ban allows individual German states to continue to do test drilling.

“The coalition’s agreement on a fracking permission law is hair-raising. The law must be stopped and replaced with a true fracking ban.”

Bloomberg notes that Friday’s parliamentary decision effectively ends (for now) years of back-and-forth between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the left Social Democrats (SPD) as well as between the people of Germany and big oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Wintershall AG.

German parliament began the process of preparing a mining amendment that would allow shale fracking “under certain geological conditions” back in 2014, says Bloomberg. The government hoped that oil companies would wait until the law passed before requesting permission to further explore the ground for oil and gas deposits. Volker Kauder, parliamentary chief of the CDU, spoke to reporters in Berlin.

“We have a new situation where [the oil] industry said that without any legal rules, we’ll simply start making requests. Therefore we had to act.”

The majority of Germans are vehemently opposed to fracking. Bloomberg noted that previous parliamentary efforts to lessen rules as they apply to oil companies prompted criticism from beer brewers, mineral water bottlers, and grassroots environmental groups worried about the possible correlation between hydraulic fracking and earthquakes.

Fracking and earthquakes. Is there a connection?

On April 1, 2011, a magnitude 2.3 earthquake struck Poulton-le-Fylde near Blackpool, England. Fewer than two months later, a magnitude 1.5 quake struck Preese Hall, Weeton, close to the Fylde coast in the same area. Both temblors occurred in close proximity to a fracking site operated by a privately owned exploration and oil production company named Cuadrilla Resources. Shortly after the second quake, The Guardian reported that Cuadrilla Resources suspended operations while the British Geological Survey collected and analyzed data related to the earthquakes.

Upon initial comparison of the quakes, Brian Baptie, head of seismology at BGS, told The Guardian the following.

“It seems quite likely that they are related. The recorded waveforms are very similar to those from the magnitude 2.3 event last month, which suggests that the two events share a similar location and mechanism.”

The BGS determined that the April and May 2011 earthquakes near Blackpool were indeed induced by hydraulic fracking. A report released by the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change says that Cuadrilla Resources was responsible for the quakes and that future quakes cannot be ruled out. The DECC offered several recommendations to reduce the risk of future frack-triggered quakes, including injecting less fluid into fracking sites and allowing the fluid to flow back into the fracture site to “minimise the probability of fluids percolating.” The DECC also recommends close monitoring of seismic activity around fracking sites and cessation of operations in the event of a magnitude 0.5 or greater temblor.

Bloomberg reports that the controversial extraction technique is already banned in France, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria. In January 2015, BBC News reported that Scotland would enact a moratorium on fracking “until after planning guidance and environmental regulations have been tightened, the consultation is complete and a public health impact assessment has been carried out.”

Germany’s decision to temporarily halt shale gas fracking may not be a complete ban, but it’s a start.

[Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images]

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