The coalition government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia stopped drilling with the controversial fracking method and all preparations thereto until the presentation of an expert opinion in 2012, the Economics Ministry and the Environment Ministry stated in a decree. It was addressed to the district government of Arnsberg, the mining authority that examines applications for drilling permits in NRW.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking means injecting large amounts of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock formations at high pressures to break open the rock and release gas from unconventional natural gas deposits that used to be difficult or less economical to exploit. Many environmentalists worldwide are opposed to fracking as they fear water contaminations near drilling sites. The expert opinion commissioned by the state of NRW shall assess long-term consequences for man and the environment.
Hence, there will be no decisions made about drilling in NRW until at least the middle of next year, the joint press release by the NRW Ministry for the Environment and the Economics Minstry points out. According to media reports in the past, ExxonMobil and nine other energy companies were granted gas exploration drilling permits in NRW, covering large parts of the country. It is unclear from the press release if and to what degree these permits are affected by the decree.
According to both ministries it is yet uncertain whether fracking permits will be granted after the presentation of the expert opinion. Decisions to the detriment of man and the environment would not be made, the ministries say. State Environment Minister Johannes Remmel pointed out that NRW was lobbying for a mandatory federal environmental impact assessment.
The decree also provides which decisions concerning applications for other drilling projects may or may not be taken until the presentation of the expert opinion. Accordingly, decisions about deep geothermal drilling that involve fracking shall no longer be taken. Conversely, exploratory mining activities, which do not serve to prepare or carry out fracking activities, can be decided about, if applicant pledges to abstain from fracking now and in the future. Furthermore, applications for other geothermal drilling, water drilling and underground exploration drilling can be decided about.
There were still unsolved issues and incalculable risks associated with the fracking method experts said in a hearing held by the Environment Committee of the Bundestag (German Parliament) on Monday. The Federal Association of the Energy and Water Industry (BDEW) that represents companies from the gas as well as the water industry, said gas was an important energy source in the energy mix following Germany’s recent shift in the energy policy. Provided the methods were safe and environmentally friendly, BDEW demanded that extracting gas from unconventional gas deposits should be possible in Germany.