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'Fracking won't save Germany from Putin'

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'Fracking won't save Germany from Putin'
Photo: DPA
13:17 CEST+02:00
Germany's reliance on Russian gas continues to limit the nation's diplomatic leverage in the Ukraine crisis. But as leaders once again explore fracking as an alternative, critics told The Local the risks were too high.

Fracking - the process of extracting hard-to-access shale gas from the ground using highly-pressurized chemicals - has never been popular in environmentally-conscious Germany.

Last year a draft bill to allow companies to use the method had to be shelved when the extent of public feeling became apparent.

But as the Ukraine crisis has made clear, Germany's reliance on Russian gas imports is becoming increasingly dangerous. Now fracking is being put forward again as a way of liberating the country's energy supply from the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Yet as calls for Germans to reconsider fracking grow louder, critics, including Environment Minister Barbara Hendriks and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), are calling for an outright ban. They say the country is not big enough to withstand large scale use of fracking chemicals, which carry a potential risk to drinking water. 

"Existing shale gas deposits in Germany would only last for about ten years. Long term price stability and independence through relying on Germany's own gas resources are therefore pure utopian fantasy," BUND fracking expert Inga Römer told The Local.

"Contamination of drinking water, increased risks of earthquakes, increased noise and air pollution in a densely populated country like Germany? It is unthinkable,” she added. “The high-risk and uneconomic fracking process should be banned here.”

Fracking dangers

Others, such as renewable energy blogger Michael Brey, have accused the pro-fracking lobby of manipulating fears over Germany's gas supply in the Ukraine crisis to force a dangerous technology on a skeptical German public.

Writing on the blog section of Econeers, a crowdfunding platform to raise money for German renewable energy projects, he argued the EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger was boldly using the Crimean crisis as a way of bringing fracking back into play.

“He is not alone - Chancellor Angela Merkel has also suddenly taken a shine to the highly risky technology," Brey wrote.

“Günther Oettinger is not exactly known as an ardent proponent of renewable energy. He seems better known for his absurd advances in energy policy.

“In his latest political gaffe, Oettinger used the background of the Crimean crisis to speak up in favour of fracking in Germany - a dangerous technology used to extract shale gas, which contaminates soil and ground water for centuries with poisonous chemicals.

“If these chemicals find their way into drinking water, they can cause infertility and cancer in humans - among other things.

Merkel's U-turn

“Fracking also causes massive damage to natural habitats. Drilling in sensitive areas can lead to fissures and earthquakes. The gas extraction method is also seen as extremely risky for the climate because it can allow the greenhouse gas methane to leak into the atmosphere.

“Methane is 25 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide in terms of its warming affect on the atmosphere - a real danger to our climate. In this way, fracking could in some situations prove worse for the climate than burning brown coal as an energy source. 

“But Oettinger is not the only one pushing for fracking. In light of the Ukraine crisis and fears over German dependence on Russian gas, Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be about to do a U-turn on her previously critical stance towards fracking.

“She is now considering importing liquid gas from the USA, where since the beginning of the last decade a fracking boom has been taking place.

“Back in May 2013, when Germany tabled a draft law to allow fracking that was later shelved, Merkel advised caution. ‘This technology would also very probably give Germany access to new gas deposits, but unlike large areas of the USA, we live in a very densely populated country,’ she told a crowd in Hamburg. ‘That is why we have to look very carefully into whether this technology should also be used here.’

“Yet as the Crimean crisis drags on and Germany explores how best to wean itself off gas imports from Russia, along comes a solution - just in the nick of time. Germany will begin importing gas from fracking in the USA.

“At an EU summit this March, Merkel was reported as saying US shale gas imports could be an option for European countries seeking to diversify their energy sources. Or in other words, fracking is fine as long as it happens a long way away and not here.

'Centuries of damage'

“It is absurd that Oettinger, and indirectly Merkel, would like to encourage the use of this technology despite all the obvious dangers. How suitable for the role is any EU commissioner who sees health of the population, protecting the environment and stopping climate change as secondary concerns?

“It seems that Oettinger - who has spoken in favour of fracking in the past - is purposely using the Crimean crisis as a way of preparing the ground for companies such as Exxon Mobil, which have been interested in extracting Germany's large gas deposits for a long while.

“What seems certain is anyone in Germany or elsewhere considering turning to fracking to secure energy supply is accepting the risk of centuries of knock-on effects for humans, nature and climate. The only sustainable way to achieve energy independence for Germany is through renewable energy.”

This extract first appeared in German on the blog section of Econeers, a crowdfunding platform fundraising money for German renewable energy projects. It was translated by The Local and published with the author's permission.

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