By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Manager of Science and Communications
In August I spent a little over two weeks in Europe, the first of which was for work in Berlin, Germany and Basel, Switzerland. Now that I have had some time to process my travels and am back on a proper sleep schedule, I thought I’d provide a little wrap up of my impressions of Europe and the issue of unconventional drilling.
In Berlin, I was hosted by two innovative organizations: JF&C and Agora Energiewende. JF&C is a consulting company that advises on international markets and sustainable growth. The roundtable held by JF&C was intended to bring together a diverse group of decision-makers in Germany to discuss potential challenges of heavy drilling in Europe — and they did not disappoint. Participants included representatives from the:
- Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) Raw Materials Policy department,
- Ecologic Institute,
- Federal Environment Agency,
- The Nature Conservancy,
- Polish Embassy,
- Baden-Württemberg, and
- BMU Water Management, Waste Management, Soil Conservation department.
The diverse backgrounds of the group led to a heated yet balanced debate on the topic of whether unconventional gas extraction should occur in Germany, as well as the rest of Europe. I was quite impressed by the transparent and matter-of-fact perspectives held by attendees, which as you can see above included governmental, NGO, and industry reps.
My next presentation in Berlin was coordinated by Agora Energiewende. Energiewende refers to Germany’s dedication to transitioning from non-renewable to more sustainable fuels. You can read more about the movement here. This forum was set up in a more traditional format – a talk by me followed by a series of questions from the audience. Many of the attendees at this event were extremely well informed about the field of unconventional drilling, climate change, and economics, so the questions were challenging in many respects. Attendees ranged from renewable energy developers to US Embassy personnel. As a reflection of such diversity, we discussed a variety of topics at this session, including US production trends and ways to manage and prepare databases in the event that heavy drilling commences in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Interestingly, one of the major opponents of this form of gas extraction in Germany, I learned, has been the beer brewers. (They were not able to be at the table that day, sadly enough.) German breweries that adhere to a 4-ingredient purity law referred to as Reinheitsgebot are very concerned and also very politically active. You can read more about beer vs. fracking here, just scroll down that page a bit.
Over decadent cappuccinos the next morning, I met with Green Parliament representatives who wanted to hear firsthand about FracTracker’s experience of drilling in the U.S. Overall, my Berlin tour showed me that many individuals seemed skeptical that unconventional drilling could safely fulfill their energy needs, while also possessing a hearty intellectual craving to learn as much about it as they could.
The second part of the week was dedicated to attending and presenting at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology conference in Basel, Switzerland. I participated in a panel that discussed the potential environmental and public health impacts of unconventional gas and oil drilling, as well as methods for prevention and remediation. The audience was concerned about a lack of regulatory and data transparency and the likelihood that such operations could contaminate ground/drinking water supplies. Based on the number of oil and gas wells impacted by the recent Colorado flooding tragedy, I cannot blame them. Most of these attendees were from academia or non-profits, although not entirely; check out coverage from this Polish radio station. (As mentioned in a previous post, Poland is one of the countries in Europe that has the potential for heavy drilling.)
The amount of knowledge I gained – and shared – from this one week alone is more than could have been possible in a year through phone calls and email exchanges. I am incredibly thankful for our funders’ and FracTracker’s support of this endeavor. Being able to discuss complex issues such as unconventional drilling with stakeholders in person is an invaluable key for dynamic knowledge sharing on an international level.
|A few non-work pictures from the second week of my trip…|