Germany’s state of Lower Saxony, which holds 95 percent of German gas reserves, is planning to launch a legal move in Parliament to lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing, which would allow it to explore its “tight” gas deposits.
Fracking is currently banned in Germany – a law that reflects the strong grass-roots opposition to the procedure that involves fracturing gas-and-oil-rich rock formations by pumping large quantities of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at very high pressure.
According to a study published by Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), there are up to 2.3 trillion cubic meters (81 trillion cubic feet) of technically recoverable natural gas under German soil, primarily in the northern state of Lower Saxony and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This amounts to more than 20 times Germany’s annual natural gas consumption.
Yet it is not shale but “tight” sandstone gas that Lower Saxony is fighting for the right to explore. The state has recently lost mining royalties from a two-year long suspension of new permits for hydraulic fracking, which it had quietly been using for decades to get at “tight” gas situated deep underground.
Tight sandstone reservoirs in Germany are typically 3,000 to 5,000 metres deep, while shale formations are between 1,000 and 2,500 metres deep. Opponents say the shallower shale gas deposits open up the potential for contamination of drinking water, which goes down to 1,000 metres. At 3,000 to 5,000 metres, fracking for “tight” sandstone gas should be much safer.
Lower Saxony’s economics minister, Olaf Lies, said in a statement on Thursday that he will present a draft law to the Bundesrat, made up of the governments of the 16 states, in mid-June, that will make environmental audits mandatory in order to free up the process.
“I am confident that we can create a new legal framework by the autumn,” Lies said, making clear his initiative was not an attempt to open the way to fracking for shale gas.
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