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Germany largely bans fracking with new laws

Particularly risky fracking is now banned until at least 2021, and "conventional" fracking will be governed by much tighter rules. For environmentalists, the laws do not go far enough: They want a complete ban.

A new legislative package on the use of fracking in Germany went into effect on Saturday, following much heated debate.

The legislation largely bans a particularly controversial form of fracking and imposes stricter rules on fracking overall. The German parliament and the 16 German states had approved the laws in June and July of 2016 after years of push-and-pull over environmental concerns and economic interests.

For environmentalists, the new laws don't go far enough: They want a complete ban on all types of fracking. "If we want to meet the climate goals set in Paris, we need a clear ban on every type of oil and gas fracking," said Kai Niebert, the chairman of Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization for German environmentalist groups.

What is fracking?

Fracking - short for hydraulic fracturing - is a method used for extracting fossil fuels. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is pushed into the ground at high pressure to press out gas or oil. It allows the extraction of previously out-of-reach resources, but also poses environmental risks.

The new German laws distinguish between "conventional fracking" and "unconventional fracking."

Unconventional fracking is used when gas or oil is found not just embedded in rock strata but bound to the stone. In these cases, the fossil fuel often no longer has gaseous or liquid form. Extremely high pressure and high amounts of fracking liquid - often containing highly toxic chemicals - are needed to extract the fuel.

That practice is now banned in Germany until at least 2021, with the exception of up to four test drillings for scientific purposes. The German parliament is set to reassess the ban in four years' time.

Conventional fracking is used when oil or gas can be reached comparatively easily. Less pressure, less liquid and fewer dangerous chemicals are usually needed to capture the fossil fuels. This method has been used in Germany since the 1960s, often in tandem with regular drilling: When a source is running low, conventional fracking is used to drive out the remaining oil or gas.

It will remain legal in Germany, but will be subject to tighter restrictions. It is, for example, no longer allowed in areas where drinking water is sourced.

Across Europe, laws on fracking vary from one country to the next. While France banned the procedure in 2011, the administration in the United Kingdom has plans to use fracking to explore its gas reserves to become more energy-independent in the post-Brexit era.

In the United States, unconventional fracking is particularly widespread. While some US states have banned the procedure, most states - especially those with large fossil fuel reserves -  allow this type of drilling. President Donald Trump recently approved the Dakota Access pipeline, which is supposed to transport oil obtained through fracking in North Dakota across the US.

mb/tj (AFP, dpa)

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