Germany is considering tighter regulation of a technique to unlock natural gas from impermeable rocks because of concerns it’s harmful to the environment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government should ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, near drinking water reservoirs and mineral springs and require developers to conduct environmental impact studies, according to a report commissioned by the German Environment Ministry.
“The study’s results and recommendations are a major step forward in the discussion about fracking,” Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said today in an e-mailed statement. “All concerns must be alleviated before fracking is used.”
Companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) have in the past drilled test wells into unconventional gas reservoirs in Germany in an attempt to emulate the U.S. shale gas boom. While a successful drilling campaign would redraw the energy map across Europe, a continent reliant on Russia for about a quarter of its gas, little headway has been made in Germany mainly because of public opposition on environmental grounds.
Fracking involves drilling hundreds of wells and cracking shale rocks with a high-pressure missile of water mixed with sand and chemicals, to unlock natural gas from the impermeable stone. The method has been used in Germany since the 1960s, with at least 275 fracks linked to conventional gas and oil wells in Lower Saxony, according to the study. Fracking was outlawed in France last year and the practice is also banned in Bulgaria.
“It’s good that no moratorium was proposed,” said Ingo Kapp, a physicist at the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam. “While Germany won’t match Poland’s shale gas ambitions, a limited exploration that takes environmental concerns seriously will be possible.”
Environmental assessment studies have already been carried out in some cases, and drilling near mineral springs was never an option anyway, he said.
Germany sits atop an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas resources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While that’s a low number compared with the 83 trillion cubic feet for Norway and 187 trillion cubic feet for Poland, the EIA said in a 2011 study that Germany has a large “additional, still undefined shale potential.”
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