The Merkel Administration moved against hydraulic fracturing this week, passing a draft law that puts the drilling practice (and therefore the shale gas it could unlock) on ice for at least the next five years. The WSJ reports:
Germany’s draft law bans the use of hydraulic fracturing technology for drilling operations shallower than 3,000 meters, and all types of fracking in nature reserves and national parks.
Test drilling for fracking, which involves using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to break apart rocks to release shale gas, will be allowed in certain cases for scientific research however, according to the draft law. […]
“As long as risks are unaccountable or currently can’t be conclusively assessed, fracking will remain forbidden,” Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said, alluding to concerns that the exploration technique could pollute groundwater.
Solar- and wind-crazed Germany seems to assume that, with the recent growth in renewables (thanks entirely to government subsidies), fracking and the shale gas it produces simply isn’t needed. But in many ways, comparing these two energy sources runs afoul of the apples and oranges problem.
Natural gas can be a source of baseload power, and, because of the relatively cheap capital outlays involved in the production and operation of gas-fired power plants, can also be flexible enough to provide peak power. Renewables can only provide the latter variety, as their intermittency makes them too unreliable to count on 24/7. But natural gas can also provide a third sort of energy—heating—and renewables can’t compete in that market, either. Not to mention the fact that natural gas is the greenest fossil fuel around, emitting roughly half the greenhouse gases as coal, a source Germany has grown increasingly reliant upon in recent years.
This is all to say that Germany’s state-supported renewable energy frenzy doesn’t affect its need for domestic gas. Like the rest of Europe, Berlin relies heavily on Russia for its natural gas supplies, which adds a geopolitical opportunity cost to this draft law. But really, what did you expect from a country that accelerated the shutdown of its nuclear reactors as part of a “green” revolution?