Shale Gas Debate Intensifies In Germany Ahead Of Election

  • Date: 19/02/13
  • EurActiv

Opposition from Germany’s powerful environmental lobby is dimming prospects for shale gas and sparking fears that major industries in Europe’s largest economy will lose out to American rivals tapping cheaper energy.

Those fears are piling pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel from both sides of the debate ahead of an election in September.

Opponents to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to drill for shale are stepping up their arguments about the environmental risks it could pose while industry leaders urge the government to draw up rules to allow exploration.

Spurring the debate is the rapid expansion of fracking in the US energy market, where it now accounts for roughly a third of the gas sector.

Energy-intense sectors such as chemicals which are important to Germany’s economy face paying three times what their American rivals pay for gas through 2030, according to influential industry lobby group BDI.

“If we immediately reject this, we will end up as international laggards,” BDI chief Ulrich Grillo said this month regarding shale gas.

Industry’s voice counts in Germany, where manufacturing accounts for at least 25% of the economy, with top employers that include BASF, Bayer as well as the steel and heavy engineering sectors.

There is already widespread dissatisfaction over surcharges which industry and consumers pay on electricity to fund government subsidies for renewable energy expansion.

Germany plans not only more renewable energy from wind and solar, but the phasing out of nuclear by 2022 and a swing away from polluting coal to cleaner natural gas.

Ironically, these plans could tip the balance in favour of fracking, albeit on a modest scale, say some industry and environment experts.

That is because without nuclear Germany will need an alternative source of stable, clean energy to complement intermittent renewables.

“It is becoming a very potent issue in Germany,” said Miranda Schreurs, director of Berlin’s Environmental Policy Research Centre and a member of the German Advisory Council on the Environment which advises Merkel’s government.

“The reality is that the rising costs of the energy transition will probably mean the issue will have to be looked at seriously.”

Political divisions

Germany’s politicians have been busy arguing the merits and dangers of drilling. Security experts discussed the issue at the Munich Security Conference and the BND intelligence agency has analysed its geopolitical impact.

Only Merkel, famous for fence-sitting, has stayed mum.

The Greens, Europe’s most successful ecological party, have grown into a political force with some chance of a return to government this year after ruling with the Social Democrats (SPD) between 1998 and 2005.

The Greens also share, or are about to share, power in six of Germany’s 16 federal states, including North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Lower Saxony, home to Germany’s biggest shale gas reserves.

In both, the Greens are partnered with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who also have reservations about shale gas.

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