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German hydraulic fracturing debate intensifies

17 Apr 2013, 2.13 pm GMT

German hydraulic fracturing debate intensifies

Hanover, 17 April (Argus) — The debate in Germany over hydraulic fracturing has intensified, as the state of Schleswig Holstein has called for a total ban on any toxic chemicals used in the drilling technique, which is used to extract oil and gas from shale formations.

The state government of Schleswig Holstein, which is formed by a Social Democrat (SPD)-Green coalition, will call on the upper house of parliament to support its motion against toxic chemicals at its next session on 3 May. The upper house — which represents Germany's 16 federal states — is dominated by the SPD and Green parties, which at federal level form the opposition to chancellor Angela Merkel's right-of-centre coalition government, and which are predominantly opposed to hydraulic fracturing.

Germany's federal environment and economy ministries have agreed on a position regarding hydraulic fracturing, but they have failed so far to present their draft to the cabinet, to be passed as a government draft bill. The draft had widely been expected to be tabled at this week's cabinet meeting today, and the SPD has criticised the government's failure to do so as “irresponsible”, in spite of a three-year debate on the law.

The federal environment and economy ministries jointly call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing in water protection areas, for a mandatory environmental impact assessment before any fracturing activity takes place and for more research into the technology involved, in particular the liquid used in the process. But this is not sufficient because any risks emanating from the chemical liquid used in the process cannot be “100pc excluded”, Schleswig Holstein energy minister Robert Habeck said.

There is no specific German hydraulic fracturing legislation beyond standard regulations under the country's mining law, which provide for a close co-ordination of gas producers with mining and other authorities, without allowing the public to take part in the licensing process and with no specific environmental standards to be adhered to.

The Schleswig Holstein state government will ban the use of toxic liquids until the state's new development plan is passed, Habeck said. Several companies have applied for exploration permits in Schleswig Holstein, thereby raising concern within the population — although the ministry stresses that there are no pending applications for hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing activities have already been carried out in Schleswig Holstein — between 1955 and 1994 — none of which appear to have had an adverse impact on the environment, the state energy ministry said.

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