The future of fracking in Europe has again been thrown into question this week, as German ministers propose a ban on shale gas exploration for the next seven years, aimed at minimising potential environment and human health risks from the technology.
The country’s economics minister Sigmar Gabriel and environment minister Barbara Hendrick’s proposed the ban on Friday, citing concerns that fracking could pollute drinking water and the environment.
It comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government planned to introduce legislation to regulate fracking, which could have brought an end to the country’s de facto moratorium on the practice.
Hendricks, a member of the Social Democratic Party, part of the governing coalition, said the legislation agreed could result in the “strictest regulations we have ever set.”
The ban, however, will only apply to depths shallower than 3,000 meters, and environmentalists and critics of fracking are warning the legislation is likely to have other loopholes.
For example, the testing of technology is permitted if the fracking liquid won’t endanger the groundwater, and fracking for tight gas – found in low porosity silt or sand areas, and a gas Germany has been extracted since the 1960s – will continue to be permitted.
The law will apply until 2021, when the “appropriateness of the ban will be reviewed”.
Germany joins France and Bulgaria is announcing an outright ban on fracking, while moratoria still exist in the Netherlands and Czech Republic.
Germany’s ban comes alongside a host of other announcements casting doubt on the future of fracking in Europe, and leaving governments intent on pursuing a dirty shale gas future increasingly isolated.
In Romania this week, campaigners once again succeeded in disrupting Chevron’s shale gas operations, while oil major Shell has said it will not frack in the UK because of concerns about “geology, costs [and] access”.
Meanwhile new research is showing clearer than ever the potential health, environmental and earthquake risks of fracking.
Analysis from the British Geological Survey has mapped where UK shale sites could overlap with important water sources, revealing nearly half of all major drinking water aquifers are at risk of water contamination if fracking goes ahead.
Meanwhile research coming out of the US has shown 2,500 earthquakes in Oklahoma could be linked to local fracking operations.