Scientists Publish Recommendations for Hydraulic Fracturing in Germany
On April 25, 2012, in Osnabrück, Germany, an extended summary version of “Risikostudie Fracking” (study of fracking risks) was presented during the final conference of ExxonMobil´s “information and dialogue process on the potential risks and environmental impact of unconventional gas production”.
- Compared to conventional gas production, hydraulic fracturing in unconventional reservoirs bears a new range of risks stemming from an increased number of wells and a related increase of water consumption, the use of chemical substances, and increased traffic. Additionally, many potential gas shales are present at shallower depths than is the case for conventional reservoirs in Germany.
- Hydraulic fracturing in unconventional reservoirs should be developed slowly and cautiously – however, there is no factual reason for a ban of the technology.
See also the press release (in German).
Overview of recommendations (abridged):
- Exclusion: Certain locations and regions should be excluded from hydraulic fracturing. Among them are drinking water protection areas (German protection zones I and II) and protected areas with mineral springs. Additionally, tectonically stressed areas, or regions with a combination of artesian ground water and migration pathways (faults), should be excluded from hydraulic fracturing operations.
- Realistic demonstration projects: Industrial-scale demonstration projects should be carried out by using the best available technology. High safety and project control requirements should apply, and scientific research should accompany these projects.
- Dialogue with the society: Participation of citizens and local governments is recommended to mitigate local burdens. Regional participation mechanisms should be implemented to accompany gas production.
- Claim settlement: Claim settlement should be made easier for affected persons. Mediation committees should be set up.
- Strict application of existing law: Consent of the water authorities must be ensured. Regional impacts could be managed with suitable planning instruments (“strategische Umweltprüfung”).
- Evolution of existing law: Every licensing procedure should start with a local risk assessment and a provisionally positive overall assessment (“vorläufiges positives Gesamturteil”).
- Advancing best available technology: environmental compatibility of natural gas production should be enhanced with respect to (1) potential water pollutants, (2) ground water protection, (3) deployment of chemical substances, (4) disposal and treatment of waste water, (5) requirements for pipelines and wellbore integrity, (6) monitoring, quality assurance and supervision.
- Research and development: Research projects should broaden existing knowledge about processes related to hydraulic fracturing. A regional material flow analysis and the evaluation of the carbon footprint of unconventional natural gas are needed.
The detailed studies on individual topics investigated by the scientists will be published within two weeks. The English version of the extended summary version of the study is currently worked on and will be available in about two weeks (to be reported on SHIP). Peer-reviewed publications will follow in Summer and Autumn 2012. The entire "Information- and Dialogue Process" is well documented on a website, most parts of which are in German only.
ExxonMobil Production Deutschland GmbH (EMPG) initiated an information and dialogue process in early 2011, due to widespread public opposition against EMPG´s unconventional gas exploration activities in NW Germany. At the heart of the process was a panel of eight experts from German research organizations that worked on recommendations for a wide range of issues related to hydraulic fracturing.
Great care was taken in selecting the experts: besides scientific excellence, requirements included independence from the natural gas industry and from ExxonMobil. EMPG and the scientists emphasized that the panel worked towards an open outcome and without any influence from EMPG. In this respect, the commitment of EMPG to conform future hydraulic fracturing operations in Germany to all recommendations emerging from the process is remarkable.
During the course of the process, additional expert advice was sought and external specialist studies were produced on topics where the knowledge of the core scientific team was insufficient. Concerned local citizens and other stakeholders, such as water authorities and providers, politicians, and environmental groups, were significantly involved in the broad dialogue process.
The “Risikostudie Fracking” is the first of three studies on the risks of hydraulic fracturing in Germany that are expected to be published by Autumn 2012. The others are reports commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.