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Germany: Unconventional Fracking Prohibited

(Mar. 8, 2017) On February 11, 2017, an act to prohibit unconventional fracking entered into force in Germany. The Act forms part of a package of laws and regulations that regulate various aspects of fracking and related mining, water, and environmental law issues.  (Gesetz zur Änderung wasser- und naturschutzrechtlicher Vorschriften zur Untersagung und zur Risikominimierung bei den Verfahren der Fracking-Technologie [Act to Amend Water and Environmental Law Provisions to Prohibit and Minimize the Risks of Fracking Technology] (Fracking Act), Aug. 4, 2016, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 1975, BGBl website.)

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a gas production technique that “produces fractures in the rock formation that stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, increasing the volumes that can be recovered.”  (EPA, The Process of Hydraulic Fracturing, EPA website (last visited Mar. 1, 2017).)

General Prohibition of Unconventional Fracking

The Fracking Act generally prohibits unconventional fracking, which is fracking in shale, marl, clay, and coal seam rocks. (Fracking Act, art. 1, no. 2, § 13a, ¶ 1, no. 1).  It provides that the German Bundestag (parliament) will reexamine the appropriateness of the prohibition in 2021, taking into account the state of the art and the progress in research.  (Id. art. 1, no. 2, § 13a, ¶ 7.)

The German states are allowed, however, to permit a maximum of four experimental fracking measures for research purposes in order to address existing knowledge gaps. (Id. art. 1, no. 2, § 13a, ¶ 2.) An independent expert commission without decision-making power, whose members are selected by the German government, will supervise the experiments, report the findings to the German Bundestag and also make them available online.  In addition, the independent expert commission will regularly update the public on the progress and results of the experiments.  There will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the reports.  (Id. art. 1, no. 2, § 13a, ¶ 6.)

Conventional Fracking

Conventional “tight sand” fracking will be subject to more restrictions than in the past. It will not be allowed in water conservation and mineral spa protection areas, or in catchment areas of lakes and reservoirs, in access points for public drinking-water supplies, or in national parks and nature preserves. (Id. art. 2, nos. 2, 3, & 4.)

In addition, according to another regulation which forms part of the legislative package on fracking, every fracking project will have to undergo an environmental impact assessment. (Verordnung zur Einführung von Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfungen und über bergbauliche Anforderungen beim Einsatz der Fracking-Technologie und Tiefbohrungen [Regulation to Introduce Environmental Impact Assessments and Mining Requirements for the Use of Fracking Technologies and for Deep Drilling], Aug. 4, 2016, BGBl. I at 1957, BGBl website.)