German brewers called on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to block the tapping of shale gas by means of hydraulic fracturing, citing industry concerns that fracking could taint the purity of the country’s beer.
The Association of German Breweries, which represents companies including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) (ABI) and Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH, rejected the government’s planned legislation on fracking until groundwater contamination can be safely excluded. They said the current proposals are inadequate to protect drinking water and hence risk infringing the country’s 500-year-old law on beer purity.
“We are concerned that fracking endangers the brewing water that more than half of Germany’s breweries take from private wells,” Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, a spokesman for the group, said today by phone from Berlin. “And that it threatens our absolutely pure beer.” The association has sent a letter voicing its concerns to six Cabinet ministers including Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, he said, confirming a report in Bild newspaper today.
Fracking, which is already politically and environmentally contentious in Germany as federal elections loom on Sept. 22, has attracted a powerful opponent in the country’s brewers, which together employ more than 25,000 people in an industry with sales of about 8 billion euros ($10 billion) last year.
Merkel, who drank from a one liter traditional beer mug during a campaign rally in Munich this month, has agreed on draft legislation in her coalition that would outlaw fracking in some areas. It remains unclear whether a law can be passed before the election, Altmaier said yesterday in an interview with German broadcaster ARD. The main opposition Social Democrats are calling for a temporary ban on the practice while their Green party allies want to outlaw it altogether.
Fracking is an option for all of Europe and should be kept open in Germany, European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said yesterday on ARD. The same day, EU leaders urged faster integration of the bloc’s power and natural-gas markets to lower energy prices as the U.S. shale-gas revolution widens the EU’s cost gap with its largest trading partner.
Altmaier said decisions on fracking, which involves drilling hundreds of wells and cracking rocks with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to unlock gas or oil from impermeable stone, should be made by national and regional governments.
“Fracking is not yet a technology that we can use in Germany,” Altmaier told ARD. “I want the related decisions to be made locally, where one knows the circumstances, and not somewhere in Brussels.”
While companies such as Chevron Corp. (CVX) have begun drilling exploration wells in countries including Poland, shale-gas production in Europe won’t make the region self-sufficient in natural gas, a 2012 study by the EU Joint Research Centre said.
Germany’s brewers point to what they say is the oldest food-safety regulation in the world to justify their concerns about fracking. The Reinheitsgebot, or “purity law,” was drafted in April 1516 at the instigation of Duke Wilhelm IV in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, now the base of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand. The law states that only malted barley, hops and water may go into beer, with the later addition of yeast, which had not yet been discovered at the time.
The law, still in existence 497 years later, “guarantees a workable form of consumer protection at a time in which other foodstuffs often make negative headlines,” the Association of German Breweries says on its website. “German beer contains no artificial flavorings and no additives — only malt, hops, yeast and water.”
The result is what beer critic Michael Jackson said on his “beer hunter” website are some “unreconstructed classics.”
German beer is enjoyed by a population that is among the thirstiest in Europe. Germany, which with about 82 million inhabitants is Europe’s most populous nation, also consumes the most beer: 89,853 million hectolitres (about 2.4 trillion gallons) in 2011, double the volume consumed in the second-ranked country, the U.K., according figures from The Brewers of Europe industry group posted on the association’s website.
In terms of individual consumption, Germans drop to third with 107 liters in 2011, edged out by their Austrian neighbors who drank 108 liters that year. Both countries are put to shame by the Czechs, each of whom consumed 154 liters, or more than five times the French.