Germany has delayed a parliamentary vote on new rules for the disputed technique of fracking for shale gas after parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition failed to agree on final details, lawmakers said on Tuesday. Legislation had been due to go to the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Friday but objections from some Social Democrats (SPD), in coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, led to a postponement until the autumn.
Unconventional fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting chemicals and water into rocks to release trapped gas. Opposition is strong in Germany, where a powerful green lobby has warned about possible risks to drinking water from fracking. German industry is keen that the door to fracking is not closed, arguing it could help lower energy costs. They point to a shale boom in the United States that has helped to boost industry by bringing down the cost of power.
A draft law passed by cabinet in April, drawn up by SPD Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, imposed an outright ban on fracking for shale gas in the next few years and only allowed scientific test drilling under strict conditions to assess the risks and environmental impact. It stipulated that commercial shale gas fracking could be allowed in exceptional cases from 2019 but only after successful test drilling and the approval of a special committee.
The two parties traded blame for the breakdown, with conservative lawmakers saying the plans laid out very strict environmental standards and urging Hendricks and SPD leaders to drum up support within their ranks. “It is regrettable that there is no majority within the SPD parliamentary party to back the draft law … We will make sure talks continue after the summer break and that the process is completed quickly,” said Marie-Luise Doett, the conservative spokeswoman in the Bundestag on environmental issues.
However, SPD member Matthias Miersch said reaching a properly thought-through law was more important than speed and bemoaned that the conservatives had not been prepared to limit the number of possible exploratory drills. Companies have argued that shale gas could be an option worth pursuing as pressure grows on Germany to reduce its dependence on imported energy due to the crisis in Ukraine.