In 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) posited that Germany holds technically recoverable shale gas reserves of 481 billion cubic meters (17 trillion cubic feet (Tcf)).1 A more recent study, completed by geologists at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, estimated that Germany's shale oil resources are around 13 million to 164 million tonnes, and that 0.32 trillion and 2.03 trillion cubic metres (cbm) of gas could be extracted in depths below 1,000 meters in northern Germany.2 "The three major German shale gas deposits lie at depths of 1,550m–2,150m (Posidonia Shale), 1,300m–1,660m (Wealden Basin), and 1,550m–5,000m (Unterkarbon) in the regions of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg, respectively."3
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration: World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States (April 2011): http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/worldshalegas/pdf/fullreport.pdf.
The Lower Saxony Basin is the most promising area for shale gas projects in Germany, containing 17 Tcf of risked, technically recoverable shale gas and 0.7 billion barrels of risked, technically recoverable shale oil.4 This formation underlies roughly 10,000 mi2 in northwestern Germany.5 The basin contains two petroleum systems: the Posidonia Shale and the Wealdean Shale.6
Despite sizeable shale gas reserves, Germany currently has ambitious plans to increase the use of renewable energy under its Energiewende (energy transition policy).7 According to the policy, Germany plans to meet “at least 80%” of its power needs via renewable sources by 2050.8 This specifically addresses the role of shale gas in this transition, concluding that, due to a combination of low popularity, environmental concerns, and economics associated with shale gas development, "the most promising alternative" for German energy transition is a combination of renewables and efficiency.9
Indeed, Germany is home to a sizable and well-organized movement that opposes hydraulic fracturing. The country has long been home to both a "strong civil environmental movement," as well as "environmental activism in politics."10 Nonetheless, some have commented that the "green party" in German politics "has never been more influential."11 These trends have culminated in a plethora of "[a]nti-shale gas campaigners" and an increasing number of politicians willing to push "green" issues, such as opposition to shale development, to the forefront of the country’s political agenda.12 Those in opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Germany have focused primarily on the potential for environmental impacts, such as groundwater contamination and increased seismicity.13 Several citizens’ initiatives use the website "Gegen Gasbohren" (against gas drilling) as a platform to publicize their opposition to shale gas development in Germany. Moreover, prominent anti-shale development campaigns on behalf of German beermakers14 and Protestant churches15 in Germany have received significant press coverage in recent years.
In June 2016, the German government agreed to ban hydraulic fracturing indefinitely.16
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
The German government formally weighed in on shale development in 2012, when Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) produced a study on the environmental impact of shale gas development.17 The study recommended careful and limited exploration of German shale gas, coupled with intensive administrative and scientific oversight.18 Shortly after the release of the study, the federal government tried to advance draft legislation on hydraulic fracturing, but withdrew the legislation in advance of the 2013 national elections as it became clear that the measure was unlikely to pass Germany’s Bundestag (parliament).19 That measure called for various environmental regulations, including a ban on fracking near water reservoirs.20
Following the 2013 national elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc (CDU) and the center left Social Democratic Party agreed to place a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing until environmental concerns related are resolved.21 Deputy Environment Minister Katherina Reiche (CDU) and Ute Vogt (SPD) commented publicly on the ban and stated that hydraulic fracturing would not be allowed until the industry could show that such activities would not involve the use of chemicals or threaten water resources.22
In July 2014, the UBA published a revised report on the environmental impact of shale gas development.23 The report generally endorsed a complete ban on all hydraulic fracturing operations in all drinking and natural hot water spring sources, as well as lakes, reservoirs, and protected nature areas.24 The UBA report recommended stringent regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations, including baseline groundwater monitoring prior to approval of any fracking operation and ongoing monitoring.25 Furthermore, the UBA report proposed to create a publicly accessible fracking chemicals registry to be managed by the federal government.26
As of 2015, there was still no federal legislation specifically addressing the shale gas industry in Germany.27 In April 2015, Chancellor Merkel’s cabinet introduced draft legislation that would have generally prohibited hydraulic fracturing in Germany until at least 2019, and called for stringent regulations on any fracturing authorized after that date.28 In June 2015, the Bundestag postponed a vote on the measure, pending additional talks over the details of the legislation.29
In June 2016, Germany’s coalition government agreed to ban all hydraulic fracturing in the country, subject only to narrow exceptions for test drilling, which is further subject to permission from the respective state government.30 The legislation implementing the ban calls for the Bundestag to reassess its decision in 2021.31
Last updated September 2018.