After an article in Euractiv claimed that the German government had approved fracking, the Guardian made a few phone calls, including to a French campaigner. Craig Morris says that German media have remained silent on the matter for good reason – the news item is a canard.
The story begins over at Euractiv. A good German article entitled (my translation) “Fracking in Germany: critics warn of watered-down bill” got an astonishing title in English: “German government approves fracking.” You could be excused of thinking there is a mistranslation here, and the confusion continues when Euractiv calls the bill a “draft law” (which, both in the United States and the Commonwealth, would mean conscription legislation).
The English Euractiv article further explains that this “draft law (sic) permitting fracking in the country” has been “tabled.” Here, we must keep in mind that, by “tabled,” the British mean “put on the table for discussion,” whereas Americans understand the opposite: postponed. The US meaning is not applicable here, but even with the British meaning, the body of article lies uneasily with its title because no decisions have been made. (“Table” is a verb that all journalists working internationally should strike from their vocabulary.)
The German media are thus overwhelmingly silent on the matter, as you can see here from a search at Google News Deutschland. In fact, one article in German refers back to Euractiv and wonders why no one has picked up on the story.
The reason is that there is no story. Last July, I wrote on this matter and my title – “Did Germany give thumbs up or down to fracking?” – reveals the confusion even back then. Essentially, the German government just produced the bill promised last summer. As Euractiv points out, fracking opponents in Germany fear that anything short of a moratorium leaves the door open for fracking, and once the country gets started, there may be no stopping. Taking such a stand is, of course, the job of environmentalists.
The Guardian picks up the (non-)story from there, even repeating the “draft law” misnomer. The British paper called three additional experts, only one of which is German. Maria Krautzberger, the new head of Germany’s Environmental Protection Agency (UBA), says, “We are on the side of the environmentalists.” A spokesperson for Shale Gas Europe says, equally unsurprisingly, that Germany needs shale gas. Strangely, the Guardian then quotes French MEP José Bové, who is not directly involved in the fracking debate in Germany, saying that it is clear what people who support fracking are going to recommend to the German government.
Actually, it’s clear what all of these people are going to say, including Mr. Bové. But to understand what the German government is going to do, we have to understand how German political culture works.
A few years ago, almost exactly the same confusion arose over carbon capture & storage (CCS) when the German government announced that CCS could go ahead any time – as soon as a community can be found that wants a nearby CO2 storage facility. Reuters wrote at the time that the “draft law” meant that CCS had been approved on a test basis. They did not add what I highlighted – that then-Environmental Minister Altmaier understood that the requirement for local approval was the death knell for CCS.
Last year, I sat down with German energy expert Harry Lehmann, who has been at the forefront of the Energiewende for decades. Over a long lunch, we drifted into various topics, including the possibility of a moratorium for fracking. “That’s not the German way,” he said. “It’s better to leave the door open. That way, companies can’t attack you outright. Then, you impose such strict regulations that whatever you are trying to block becomes unprofitable. The companies drop the issue of their own accord.”
That’s what we’re witnessing right now with fracking. Germany won’t ban shale gas production; it will simply make extraction unenticing. Keep in mind that the current governmental coalition is more pro-business than any other we are likely to get. I’ll bet you a beer we are not going to see any major fracking in Germany ever.