Altmaier says no fracking without local support
Last week, there were reports that German Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier may soon cave in on hydraulic fracturing of shale gas, which is still off-limits in Germany. But over the weekend, he tweeted in response to the charges and reiterated his attention to popular will.
Last week, a new study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that Germany would be the third biggest benefactor of shale oil after India and Japan. By 2025, German economic growth could be 2 to 5 percentage points greater.
The study added new fuel to the fire surrounding hydraulic fracturing in Germany. The country is considered to have considerable shale gas resources to the North, possibly enough to cover its entire gas supply for 13 years – but then, so is Poland, and those estimates continue to be adjusted downwards.
In Internet forums, however, the public does not seem excited about the prospect. And Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier has also spoken out in favor of caution, saying that "this stuff has been in the ground for a long time. It can wait a few more years for us to investigate things properly."
Altmaier has the power to interpret mining laws not written for shale gas and apply them to the new technology. But last week, he stated that "I do not see fracking being used anywhere in Germany in the foreseeable future," and over the weekend he explained why in a tweet: "To everyone who thinks I'm too careful about fracking: I don't know any town or community that would accept it."
The difference between Germany and the United States, where shale gas is turning the energy market on its head, is salient. German proponents of shale gas like to argue that Germany has been successfully testing the process since the 1960s without contaminating groundwater or otherwise detrimentally impacting the environment, but that is only partly true. While the Wikipedia entry on the history of hydraulic fracturing also seems to indicate that there is nothing new to the process, in fact it was the addition of a chemical cocktail at the end of the last century that changed a procedure that has otherwise remained quite similar.
The addition of these chemicals does not constitute much of a technological breakthrough, however, though it does fundamentally change the risk. The real breakthrough came in 2005 in the Bush administration's Energy Policy Act, which took hydraulic fracturing out of the mandate of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, firms extracting shale gas do even not have to publish the composition of their chemical cocktail, though some recently have done so voluntarily.
In Germany, the government seems unlikely to allow corporations to make such profits and pass on the risks to society, judging from Altmaier's recent comments. The situation is much the same with renewables as well, with the United States largely asking its energy providers to switch to renewables, whereas Germany simply lets its citizens invest and doesn't worry about setting targets for utilities. (Craig Morris)