Germany Passes Cautious Fracking Law
The recent approval of a new law on gas exploration by Germany’s federal parliament, Bundestag, will end a five-year drilling respite extended several times while the governing Christian Democrat-Social Democrat pondered how to regulate fracking.
The decision means that commercial drilling for unconventional gas can resume. Exploration for unconventional gas, in particular shale gas, however, is being restricted to four test drills per company until 2021, at which time the government will consider whether to ban or allow fracking.
A peculiarity of the bill just passed is that issuing permits for drilling will be in the hands of the states, without intervention from the federal government. This is being seen as a political move, as the state of Lower Saxony – where 95% of Germany’s conventional gas drilling takes place – had threatened to take the initiative itself in the absence of regulation.
The state’s Social Democrat-Green party coalition government said that jobs were being lost during the long moratorium, with employment in the industry falling to 16,000 from 20,000.
In reaction to the new legislation, environmental advocacy groups said they feared the floodgates to widespread fracking activity could be opened after 2021. By contrast, the German Confederation of Industry, Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI), which asserts that Germany has “the highest environmental standards,” was critical of the drilling restrictions.
Drilling for conventional gas Lower Saxony has a long history. Most recently, however, an unusual incidence of cancer cases scare near a disused drilling site has raised concern.