Hydraulic fracturing has had a tumultuous relationship over the years with the public as well as with government officials. In the United States, fracking has been welcomed, studied, banned, and unbanned. Some states have opened their arms to the controversial process, while others have been cautious or outright prohibited it.
While the battle over fracking is playing out in the United States, other countries across the globe are also weighing their options on how to approach fracking and all it entails, from energy independence and job creation to public protests and the threat of environmental damage. Here’s a look at five countries and their decisions on fracking.
- Algeria – More than 230 trillion cubic feet of shale gas waits beneath this North African country, which is a member of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. That amount could be enough to supply the whole of the European Union for 10 years, bringing a significant boost to Algeria’s economy. However, fracking has plenty of detractors here. Finding enough water for the water-intensive process without jeopardizing other uses will be a challenge in the desert, and protestors have rallied at pilot well sites, saying they are worried about water contamination. Another factor is the drop in the price of oil. As oil prices fall, the economic viability of fracking in Algeria becomes harder to sustain.
- France – In 2011, France was the first European country to enact a moratorium on fracking. Two years later, the Conseil Constitutionnel, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld the constitutionality of the moratorium. President François Hollande has affirmed the need for the ban as an environmental precaution, based on a lack of research about the long-term effects of fracking. While a 2014 report stated that French shale gas reserves could be removed safely with alternative methods, the French government has maintained that shale gas is no longer on the table, despite those findings.
- Germany – Although fracking has been used in Germany to extract gas from conventional tight reservoirs, unconventional shale gas fracking in Germany has effectively been banned since 2012 as it has been prohibited at depths of less than 3,000 meters. In a November 2014 radio interview, Germany’s Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks affirmed the ban, saying that commercial fracking might be allowed in the future if it could be scientifically proven to have no adverse effects on the environment. In April, Germany’s cabinet approved draft fracking legislation that includes the 3,000-meter depth limit for shale gas (and coalbed methane) reservoirs as well as other strict environmental protections. Trial fracking for scientific purposes may be allowed without being subject to the 3,000-meter depth limit if an expert commission confirms that it does not pose risks to people and the environment, such as using pollutants that might contaminate the water supply. The parliamentary vote on this legislation has been delayed until fall.
- Spain – Regional governments have begun allowing exploratory drilling. Permits for exploration increased 35% from 2012 to 2014 as oil companies sought to get in on the possible oil boom. Offshore drilling looked to be the future, but oil company Repsol ended its exploratory drilling near the Canary Islands, stating that the surveys showed the project would not be successful. Spain is stuck in an economic downturn with very high unemployment; the Spanish unemployment rate topped 27% in the first quarter of 2013, and it was still 22.5% as of June 2015. While protests against fracking are common, the government sees it as a way to create jobs, reduce high energy costs, and decrease the country’s reliance on oil imports.
- United Kingdom – A moratorium on fracking in England was instituted in 2011 following two earthquakes linked to fracking activities in Lancashire. The moratorium was lifted the next year, and since then, fracking operations have been legal, although no fracking has actually taken place. Prime Minister David Cameron is becoming increasingly frustrated that fracking projects can’t move forward because a county council refused to approve planning consent applications for two fracking projects. On the other hand, Scotland announced a moratorium in January on all unconventional oil and gas extraction, including fracking, until more information about the potential effects, positive and negative, can be compiled and assessed. In February, the Welsh government followed suit, announcing its own moratorium to take effect as soon as they receive the devolved power to set their own energy policy.
For a visual summary, Deutsche Welle (DW) research has prepared a very helpful map showing the status of fracking throughout Europe. These are just some of the fracking stories playing out around the world. Do you see fracking being conducted in more countries, or do you think more bans are on the way? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.