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Press Release | Tuesday, 26 March 2024

Fracking: an option for Germany? Science academies identify opportuni-ties, risks and uncertainties

Joint press release by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities

Fracking in unconventional reservoirs was banned in Germany in 2016 and since then seemed to have been shelved. However, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has created new conditions for German energy policy and severely restricted the availability of natural gas for Germany. How can the gas, which is no longer being supplied, be replaced? This question will continue to be of significance for Germa-ny's energy supply in the years to come. Could fracking make a relevant contribution to the security of supply? The Academy's Project “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS) discusses the opportunities and risks of fracking and identifies uncertainties.

The question of whether and to what extent fracking in unconventional reservoirs in Germany can or should contribute to the security of supply is experiencing an unexpected renaissance for many people due to the loss of Russian natural gas supplies. This allows the Academy's Project “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS) an opportunity to provide an overview. In the publication of Discussion Paper, “Fracking: an option for Germany? Opportunities, Risks and Uncertainties of Fracking in Unconventional Reservoirs” experts from the joint initiative of the science academies acatech, Leopoldina and the Union of German Academies discuss whether domestic fracking could make a meaningful contribution to Germany's energy supply.

Environmental risks and short-term contribution to the security of supply

Potential environmental risks have so far dominated the debate on fracking. However, ESYS experts con-clude that this environmental damage could be largely avoided in Germany. Prerequisites for this are clear requirements to protect the environment and use the best available technology. However, residual envi-ronmental risks remain.

There is potential to extract natural gas from German soils: An estimated 6 to 12% of Germany's current annual natural gas consumption could be fracked. According to the experts, however, it would take at least three years until first drilling take place. This does not include the time it would take to negotiate the fracking ban both politically and socially and, if necessary, to abolish it. From their point of view, a short-term contribution to the security of supply is therefore not to be expected. However, beyond this period, could fracking contribute to an affordable energy supply while at the same reducing CO2 emissions?

Economic efficiency and the contribution to climate protection

Fracking in Germany could increase security of supply to a certain extent in the medium and long term and reduce Germany’s dependency on imports. However, within the framework of the German and European climate targets, the use of shale gas would be limited in time. In addition, increased easing on the global natural gas markets and falling demand in Germany could lead to more significant price pressure for do-mestic natural gas extraction. Therefore, it is uncertain whether and under what conditions companies can set up a business model without state support.

According to the experts, the impact of fracking in Germany on the climate is also uncertain. Domestic natural gas would have a lower CO2 emission factor than imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), as no energy is required to liquefy and transport the gas. However, the increased quantities of natural gas could create an incentive for the further use of natural gas and thus delay climate protection measures.

Karen Pittel, Director of the ifo Center for Energy, Climate and Resources and Deputy Chair of the ESYS Board of Directors, sums up this situation as follows: “Given the significant rejection by society, the limited time horizon and the uncertain cost and price development, it is unknown what contribution fracking can make to strengthening the security of supply in Germany. Therefore, there needs to be an open discussion about potentials and conflicting goals.”

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities provide policymakers and the public with independent, science-based advice on current issues of crucial importance for our future. The Academies’ members and other experts are leading researchers from Germany and abroad. Working in interdisciplinary working groups, they draft position papers that are published in the series of papers Schriftenreihe zur wissenschaftsbasierten Poli-tikberatung (Monograph Series on Science-based Policy Advice) after being externally reviewed and approved by the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
The lead institution of the joint initiative “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS) is acatech. Within the Academies’ Project, over 160 energy experts from the science and research communities develop policy options for the im-plementation of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy supply.

Main contact:
Claire Stark, Press and Public Relations Officer
acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering | “Energy Systems of the Future” Project Office
Tel.: +49 (0)89 5203 09-929

Other contacts:
Caroline Wichmann, Head of Press and Public Relations
German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
Tel.: +49 (0)345 472 39-800

Dr. Annette Schaefgen, Head of Press and Public Relations
Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities
Tel.: +49 (0)30 325 98 73-70



Julia Klabuhn

Acting Head of the Department Press and Public Relations

Phone 0345 - 47 239 - 800
Fax 0345 - 47 239 - 809
E-Mail presse(at)leopoldina.org