Natural gas shortage: Bundestag delays fracking debate despite energy crisis

DGermany has found itself in a gas crisis and is dependent on Russian supplies, which are being cut back. The emphasis is on Germany’s own resources: beneath Germany lies enormous amounts of natural gas, which geologists say can supply the country for decades.

Energy reserves can be used by fracturing. But the previous federal government banned drilling technology in 2017, despite scientific reports also showing that fracturing is feasible in Germany.

The ban is not rigid, and according to the Water Resources Act, it should be reconsidered: the German Bundestag was already in 2021 obliged to verify the validity of the fracking ban – “on the basis of the current state of science and technology”. as the law says. However: it did not happen – despite the gas crisis.

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When asked by WELT, the Bundestag indicated that the “Fracking Experts Committee” did not submit its report of 2021 until the end of June, on the basis of which advice should be given. It would now be decided by the factions of the parties represented in the Bundestag when parliamentary deliberations would take place.

“Nothing will happen before September after the end of the summer break”

However, the “Fracking Expert Committee” has already presented a report in 2020. In it, scientists defined the legal status: “In 2021, the German Bundestag will review the validity of the ban on unconventional fracturing based on the current state of science and technology.” So why didn’t the Bundestag act in 2021?

WELT’s inquiries to the responsible authorities of the parties did not result in a response. The only thing that is clear is that a date to investigate the fracking ban has not yet been agreed.

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“Nothing will happen until September after the summer break ends,” says an SPD employee. The Fracturing Commission report is already in print, but has not yet been referred to the commission.

Probably “in one of the September meeting weeks, it will be decided which committee will be responsible for treatment, whether the climate and energy committee or the environment committee” – explains the expert from the CDU. Then “the further procedure will be resolved”.

The opposition also shows little interest

The party’s interest in fracking seems to be low, and even the opposition is not exerting any pressure on it. CDU federal vice-president and spokesman for the CDU / CSU parliamentary group on climate protection and energy, Andreas Jung, regards the revision of the fracking ban as a “statutory mandate”. However, it rejects fracking, despite the lack of natural gas: the technology was blocked in Germany “for good reason due to the threatening environmental and nature impacts.”

Meanwhile, scientists have once again tried to put fracking on the political agenda. The Professional Association of German Geologists wanted to provide information on the technology and its potential ahead of a federal press conference this summer, but federal press conference management declined, according to WELT reports in July.

Fracking can “significantly reduce gross import dependency”

Scientists have repeatedly given the green light to fracturing in Germany. “As long as we need natural gas in Germany, it’s a joke, to put it mildly, that we are not extracting it here,” says former president of the Federal Institute for Earth Sciences and Natural Resources, raw materials expert Hans-Joachim Kümpel. Domestic slotted gas can “significantly reduce the blatant dependence on imports”.

During fracturing, the rock in the ground is broken with liquid to extract natural gas. The technology has a bad reputation, although it has been tried and tested for decades and now has almost no problems.

International geological associations complained in their “Copenhagen Declaration” of “frequent misleading media reports on shale gas exploration and exploitation” in the face of many false reports of alleged environmental damage that “could lead to bad decisions for the public.”

Reports by scientists from German research institutes have concluded that the risks of fracking can be easily managed if certain regions are excluded from funding: regions where drinking water is obtained, fracture zones and earthquake zones should be avoided. In addition, gas tanks should not be operated above 1000 meters in order to maintain a distance from groundwater.

Protests made fracturing impossible

Fracturing technology has been tried and tested for decades. According to industry representatives, some 300 fracturing operations have been carried out in Germany to obtain more natural gas from regular deposits. There was no problem.

In 2012, the SPD parliamentary group demanded that “the development of new sources of natural gas be still possible”. The federal government has developed a concept according to which the criteria for financing fracking should be approved.

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The fact that the energy treasure was not saved in Germany was mainly due to the protest of climate protection advocates against the promotion of fossil fuels and, on the other hand, to the protest against fracking. Concerned by media reports of the protests, citizens have put pressure on their constituency MPs to prevent fracking.

In the current threat of natural gas, scientists are again in favor of mining technology. “Due to the political situation, Germany should fracture,” says energy researcher Mohammed Amro of Bergakademie Freiberg. Within a year, Germany can start producing shale gas. In five years, the production rate could increase to such an extent that Germany will be able to cover a fifth of its natural gas needs with domestic fracturing gas, says Amro.

“The federal government does not put all options on the table”

From time to time, some politicians now join scientists. “In the current difficult situation, the federal government does not offer all options,” CDU MP Klaus-Peter Willsch told WELT. Thanks to German production of natural gas, Russian imports “cannot be fully compensated, but can significantly reduce their dependence on imports.” He expects the federal government to “think quickly.”

It seems unlikely, however, that the government will step down. With last year’s “Assessment of the Fracturing Regulation Package” report, the ministries of the environment, economy and education apparently wanted to put an end to the fracturing issue. The nine-page text concluded: “Overall, the provisions of the regulatory package on fracking have proved their worth.” Recommendations to amend the regulations “would not be issued at present” – a revision of the ban would therefore be superfluous.

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No nuclear power, no fracking

But the government can’t get rid of fracking that easily. There is “a need to take legal action,” says lawyer Michael Reinhardt of the University of Trier. Experts confirmed “rather low and manageable risks to humans, the environment and water” for fracking, which the legislator has to include in the “composite proportionality test”.

The hope that no one would protest in court to get Parliament to take the matter up would be “inadequate for the severity of the case,” writes Reinhardt. The German Bundestag is obliged to draft the final fracking regulation.

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