Germany’s energy supply crisis has sparked a national political debate about whether the country should lift its ban on fracking to allow development of untapped natural-gas reserves.
As a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, there is growing concern in Germany that Moscow will completely cut off its gas supplies. Russia has already reduced gas to 20 per cent through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
German energy minister Robert Habeck has been travelling the planet looking for alternative energy supplies, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz will be vising Canada this month to strengthen energy ties.
The fracking debate is splitting along political lines, with left-leaning parties, including the Greens and the ruling Social Democrats, opposed. Parties representing liberals and conservatives say the move is necessary as shortages are expected to hit Germany this winter and over the next few years. They say the country should allow testing and exploration to see if fracking is viable.
“The significant expansion of domestic natural-gas production will make us independent and restore our energy sovereignty,” Michael Kruse, energy policy spokesman of the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP) told The Globe and Mail. “It makes more ecological sense to extract this urgently needed gas here on land in safe environments and thus reduce overseas transports,” Mr. Kruse said.
Elsewhere in Europe, fracking is also up for reconsideration. In Britain, there have been calls to lift a moratorium. In the Netherlands, there is a debate over extending production in Europe’s biggest gas field, which is scheduled to end this year.
Germany is also considering extending the lifespan of nuclear plants. The European Parliament recently declared nuclear and natural gas as green energy sources under its climate plan.
Germany has extensive gas reserves, but they are not under development because of the fear of earthquakes and pollution from fracking, which injects high-pressure fluids deep underground to fracture rocks and release shale gas.
Fracking of shale gas has been banned In Germany since 2017; only four test borings for scientific purposes are allowed. But these test drillings haven’t been carried out so far.
“Test drilling in shale-gas fields has not been considered by the extraction companies because of existing political opposition,” said the German Federal Association of Natural Gas, Petroleum and Geoenergy (BVEG).
Some German states, which would have to agree to such test boring, have rejected the idea. The Lower Saxony state, which has the country’s largest shale-gas reserves, is instead pushing for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, some of which is currently under construction on the north coast. The LNG terminals could then import fracking gas from the U.S. or natural gas from Canada.
According to a report by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, the reserves of shale gas in Germany are at more than two trillion cubic metres. Extraction would only be possible through fracking. However, it is unclear whether this volume can be extracted in its entirety.
This amount corresponds to 20 times the annual gas consumption in Germany, which is 100 billion cubic metres, according to BVEG.
The potential production of shale gas would be up to 10 billion cubic metres per year. That could cover 10 per cent of German gas needs and could limit additional LNG imports, said Ludwig Moehring, BVEG’s chief executive. Reducing dependence on LNG imports would in turn put pressure on wholesale prices.
The German government’s expert commission on fracking concluded last year that the technology should be manageable and estimates the environmental risks of shale-gas extraction to be relatively low.
Technological methods for development have advanced in recent years, the commission’s report says. Drillings are closely monitored by sensors, and development prospects are now accurately predicted.
Even if the fracking ban were lifted, German fracked gas would still not be available for at least two winters.
Mr. Moehring pointed out that the approval procedures probably would need a “lead time of several years.” Also, the knowledge about the technology must be restored, he said, because German exploration companies had already abandoned fracking years ago.
Companies operating in Germany, such as Exxon Mobile, would have to draw on the expertise of their U.S. parent companies. The technology has been tried and tested many times around the world.
Fracked gas from the U.S. arrives already on the European market and reaches Germany via ports such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
This story has been updated. An earlier version said that the Netherlands was debating extending fracking production