What does fracking mean

Fracking

With a primary energy consumption share of 21 percent, natural gas plays an important role in Germany's energy mix and will also make a significant contribution to the energy supply for the next few decades. In addition, natural gas is of great importance as a primary raw material for the chemical industry.

At the beginning of August 2016, based on proposals from the Federal Ministry of Economics and the Federal Environment Ministry, extensive new and stricter regulations on the use of fracking in Germany were announced in the Federal Law Gazette, which ensure that the protection of drinking water and health has absolute priority.

In "hydraulic fracturing" - "fracking" for short - small cracks are created in the rock containing the natural gas in a controlled manner by injecting a liquid (water and additives) and the associated increase in pressure. This process releases the gas so that it can be carried to the surface through the wells. While conventional fracking is mainly carried out in sandstone (usually also at greater depths), unconventional fracking is used in shale, clay, marl and coal seams.

Unconventional fracking: ban for commercial ventures

Commercial unconventional fracking projects are not permitted in Germany until further notice. The ban concerns the so-called unconventional fracking in the extraction of natural gas in shale, clay, marl and coal seams.

In contrast to the sandstone deposits previously used in Germany, there is as yet no experience or knowledge in this country for the extraction of natural gas using fracking from these deposits. In order to collect empirical values ​​on the effects on the environment and the subsoil, a total of four scientifically supported test measures should be possible - but only provided that the fracking liquid used is not hazardous to water. These boreholes require the approval of the state government - in addition to the permits otherwise required by the responsible state authorities. The test drillings, if they actually take place, are accompanied by an independent commission of experts consisting of six experts from recognized research institutions and authorities. The expert commission started its work on May 16, 2019. It will report annually to the Bundestag and, in addition to possible test drillings, also deal with the current state of fracking technology. The current report can be found on the website of the expert commission.

In 2021, the German Bundestag is to review whether the ban on unconventional fracking remains.

Conventional fracking: Drinking water protection is paramount

Conventional fracking in the extraction of natural gas from sandstone has been used in Germany for many years and has been tried and tested for many years. In order to take better account of environmental and consumer protection, the existing regulations on conventional oil and gas production, but also on the use of fracking for exploring and extracting geothermal energy, have been tightened and supplemented. Fracking is banned in sensitive areas such as water protection and mineral spring protection areas, at lakes and dams for drinking water, at water extraction points of the public water supply, in catchment areas of mineral water resources, healing springs and points for the extraction of water for the production of food. The federal states, which are responsible for approving fracking projects, can also impose further restrictions.

Far-reaching regulations for more environmental compatibility

In addition to these central aspects, the package of regulations also contains new regulations on environmental compatibility, in particular on the protection of drinking water. The disposal of refluxes and reservoir water is subject to the highest requirements according to the state of the art. Storage water may only be introduced into rock strata in which crude oil or natural gas was or is present and in which a risk to drinking water can be ruled out. Returning fracking fluids must not be stored underground.

In addition, there is an obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA obligation) - and therefore mandatory public participation - for all fracking measures in the extraction of crude oil and natural gas and for the disposal of reservoir water. It is regulated in the Mining EIA Ordinance. The burden of proof with regard to possible mining damage, which may originate from deep drilling including fracking measures or caverns, is lightened in favor of the injured party. This so-called mountain damage presumption is also extended to damage caused by tremors caused by earthquakes.

Laws on the subject of fracking

The package of regulations on fracking came into force on February 11, 2017. It consists of the following parts:

  1. Act to amend water and nature conservation regulations to prohibit and minimize risks in the process of fracking technology (PDF: 60 KB)
  2. Law to extend mining damage liability to borehole mining and caverns (PDF: 53 KB)
  3. Ordinance on the introduction of environmental impact assessments and on mining requirements for the use of fracking technology and deep drilling (PDF: 54 KB)

Frequently asked questions and answers (FAQ) about fracking can be found here. The Federal Environment Ministry has also created FAQs on the subject of fracking.