Fracking promises access to previously unreachable natural gas deposits, but environmental groups warn of uncontrollable risks in gas production. Curious: Nobody wants fracking, but it is still not forbidden.
Oil and natural gas, the magic ingredients of the industrial revolution, are slowly running out. More and more daring maneuvers are being undertaken to access the remaining supplies. Everyone is talking about a process in the gas sector that throws unsuspected (pressure) waves: hydraulic fracturing, in English "hydraulic fracturing" or fracking for short, is the magic word that is supposed to wash money into the pockets of energy companies, divide politics and endanger citizens.
Fracking allowed – but no federal state wants to get their fingers dirty
In mid-2016, the government passed a controversial fracking law package that entered into force in February 2017 without the mass media saying much about it. This prohibits controversial unconventional fracking – initially for an unlimited period. Four test bores should be permitted for research purposes under strict conditions and with the consent of the respective state government. The law also stipulates that the Bundestag will decide again in 2021 whether the ban is still appropriate.
Conventional natural gas fracking, which has been practiced in Lower Saxony in particular, remains generally possible. In some critical areas, such as drinking water, is not allowed to frack.
Environmentalists fear that on this basis, after the six-year moratorium, the first fracking projects will soon be available again.
Strange: Although fracking is allowed, no federal state wants to perform fracking trial drilling. The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (NOZ) reported on February 11, 2017, referring to a survey among the 16 governments of the federal states. The reasons: On the one hand, there are not enough interesting occurrences, on the other hand, fracking as a technique meets with strong opposition from the citizens – why this is absolutely right, we explain below.
Lower Saxony rejects fracking in unconventional deposits, also for research purposes, according to the NOZ. North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen, Hamburg, Thuringia, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria generally do not want to approve test bores for this type of gas production. The other federal states referred to missing deposits for shale gas production via fracking, which would be permitted in Germany, or do not yet have a position.
Gas production through fracking: no state government really wants it (Photo: CC0 / pixabay / jwigley)
Nobody wants fracking in Germany, but nobody wants to ban it either. Countries such as France, Ireland and Scotland have decided on clear fracking bans, only Germany, which hosted the UN climate conference in November, wants to keep all options open again and clings to fossil fuels, although these are definitely limited. The environmental umbrella organization of the German Nature Protection Ring (DNR) with its member organizations, the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), the Nature Protection Association Germany (NABU) and Robin Wood, as well as the German Environmental Aid (DUH), the Munich Environmental Institute, PowerShift and Food & Water Europe are therefore afraid that new fracking projects may still occur at some point.
What is fracking?
Fracking is used for gas production. A liquid, the so-called fracturing fluid, is pumped into a rock layer with enormous pressure. This creates cracks in the rock, in which sand contained in the fracturing fluid is deposited. The small grains of sand keep the cracks open, through which substances trapped in the rock can flow out after the frac fluid has been pumped out. The natural gas that can be extracted with fracking is not enclosed in a large bubble under an impermeable layer, but is distributed in small parts in a porous layer. This so-called unconventional natural gas Until two decades ago it was considered very difficult to access.
When did fracking begin??
Fracking was developed as early as the 1940s. But it was only in the 1970s that people became interested in the then difficult and less productive process. The big fracking boom occurred in the 2000s because the scarcity of resources and new technologies made the business profitable. Natural gas fracking opens up unprecedented opportunities for energy companies.
Dangers of fracking for gas production
In the meantime, there are some detailed studies and scientific publications in which damage events have been documented and contamination detected. This includes the study “Fracking – an interim assessment” published by the Energy Watch Group, an international and independent network of scientists, published in 2015. Despite the considerable risks and environmental impacts of fracking, the USA continues to pump, break open and withdraw, especially in the USA. So far, four main risk factors have been identified, which we will discuss below.
Although the energy companies like to emphasize that the Fracfluid consists of 98 percent water and sand, they like to keep themselves covered over the remaining two percent. These are made up of a number of chemicals and lubricants. Some of them are toxic and even carcinogenic and must not be allowed to get into drinking water. The greatest danger does not arise from the fracturing itself, but from unsecured waste water after the drilling.
The companies continue to insist on the low percentage. However, if you consider that a single fracture pumps approximately ten million liters of fracturing fluid into the borehole, then two percent add up to approximately 200,000 liters of chemicals per fracture. Only a fraction of these are extracted again. The mineral oil company ExxonMobil was only able to retrieve around 30 percent of the Fracfluid from a well in Lower Saxony. Tens of thousands of liters of chemicals are probably forever distributed in the soil under Lower Saxony. Nobody knows what happens to it.
2. Gas leaks
In the United States, where fracking has been practiced on a large scale for several years, methane gas has accumulated in the drinking water near boreholes. In places, the concentration was so high that an explosive mixture escaped from the water pipe that could have been ignited with a cigarette. According to studies, possible reasons for this are leaks in the cemented edges of the boreholes or cracks from fracturing that lead to the groundwater.
3. Earth movements
Earth movements are doubly dangerous. On the one hand, the seismic measurements in the run-up to the drilling as well as the fracking itself can cause faults in the rock strata. Groundwater may become contaminated, cavities collapse. There is a risk that previously impermeable layers become porous and release substances trapped beneath them.
On the other hand, natural earth movements in a fracking area that has already been developed can cause leaky wells to leak. Slate layers formerly sealed under solid rock may have access to higher layers and the groundwater. Accumulated frac fluid and natural gas would sometimes find its way back to the surface.
4. Greenhouse gas
When transporting and producing natural gas, methane leaks into the atmosphere through leaks. The leaks include leaky valves and pipelines as well as the incomplete flaring of natural gas, which is a by-product of oil production. The problem: methane has a global warming potential that is about 100 times more effective than carbon dioxide (CO2) – and thus makes a significant contribution to climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the oil and gas industry contributed 29 percent more to methane emissions in the United States in 2013 than cattle breeding (26 percent).
Fracking in Germany
Fracking has been carried out about 320 times in Germany so far, but only rarely in connection with natural gas. Fracking has long been used for groundwater extraction and geothermal drilling. In 2008 the ExxonMobil group carried out test drilling and fracs for natural gas production in Lower Saxony. However, when the topic appeared more in the media in 2010 and widespread resistance among the population, the group stopped its natural gas fracking until further notice.
Since 06.08.2016 there is now a regulation for fracking in Germany valid until 2021 (see above).
Fracking law is not sufficient
Climate expert Jochen Luhmann from the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy says to Deutschlandfunk that the law itself is satisfactory, but unfortunately omits one aspect entirely: even small amounts of methane, which also get into the atmosphere during conventional fracking, have a significant effect on the climate. However, the regulation does not require industry to avoid or reduce emissions. In addition, industry only has to measure greenhouse gases for as long as it is producing gas. However, emissions still occur afterwards.
In his opinion, however, companies would react to such regulations: if they were required by law to be more careful when promoting, much less methane would escape.
"Fracking is a senseless undertaking"
If you want to find out more about fracking, we recommend the basic work “Fracking – energy miracle or environmental sin?” By energy expert Werner Zittel. The author takes a critical look at the topic and brings his reasoning across in a way that is understandable even for laypeople.
“Opinions differ as to whether it is modern or even future-proof to exploit the last reserves of fossil fuels that you can get hold of. The discussion is correspondingly emotionally charged, advocates and opponents each claim sovereignty of interpretation. With so much ambiguity, well-founded education is necessary. "
You can find well-founded information in his book. The energy expert describes the process in detail and clearly shows how dangerous and unprofitable it is. Because unconventional fracking is significantly more expensive than conventional oil and natural gas production, it is also riskier for the environment: the chemicals used are sometimes toxic, often even carcinogenic. The process also releases (weak) radioactive substances. The poisons end up in the groundwater and thus in the drinking water.
He uses numerous examples in the United States to illustrate the negative effects of fracking – which would have been avoidable in part if the companies had worked more carefully.
It’s not just environmental and health risks that speak against fracking. Zittel shows that the process only offers the possibility of tapping the low reserves for a short time. Because even if the presumed quantities of natural gas are set high – only a fraction of them can be extracted at all.
He firmly refutes the argument that fracking as the transition to the energy transition is still the best way compared to other alternatives. Because instead of pushing the switch to renewable energies, it slows it down:
“We know that by 2050 we will have to reduce about 80 to 90 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions. And that doesn’t work because we put new energy into the development of new fossil deposits. "
Werner Zittel’s message is unmistakable: Fracking is a senseless undertaking in terms of energy and environmental policy. His book is a must for everyone who wants to have a say in the controversial fracking debate. "Fracking – energy miracle or environmental sin?" By Werner Zittel (ISBN: 978-3-86581-770-9, 224 pages, 19.95 euros) has been published by oekom Verlag and u. a. to have at , ,
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