Germans take their beer very seriously. This is the stuff of legend, and now brewers are saying that fracking could threaten centuries of purity.
In a letter to the government, the Association of German Breweries says that the use of hydraulic fracturing to unleash unconventional oil and gas deposits could destroy the German beer tradition by tainting water supplies.
The brewers are referring specifically to the German Purity Law of 1516, which guides the country’s beer brewing. Indeed, German beer is as pure as it comes, containing no artificial flavorings or additives. The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are not part of the recipe.
Exactly how important is beer to Germans? Check out this math: Germans are the third-largest consumers of beer in the world (107 liters consumed by a single individual in 2011), just behind Austrians (108 liters) and far behind the ever-thirsty Czechs (154 liters), according to the Association. Beer is where Germans will draw the line.
Keep in mind that Germany houses over 1,300 breweries that produce some 5,000 different beers. It’s a lot of beer, and that beer plays a vivid role in national identity.
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German brewers are entering the fray at a time when the government has already promised not to allow fracking in the country, but there are concerns that this could be a short-lived promise as European countries are under increasing pressure to address their energy security.
Indeed, the country is deliberating a law that would allow limited fracking in order to diversify energy supplies as Germany gives up nuclear power. Beer brewers say this is premature: not enough has been done to ensure that groundwater is not contaminated during fracking.
Among the members of the breweries association are big players like Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) and Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH.
“We are concerned that fracking endangers the brewing water that more than half of Germany’s breweries take from private wells,” Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, an association spokesman told Bloomberg. “And that it threatens our absolutely pure beer.”
German brewers could in fact raise the political stakes here considerably. The breweries are hoping to take advantage of the political timing here to ensure that their voices are heard. General elections will take place on 22 September, and fracking will be a key campaign element. The lobbying clout of Germany’s breweries shouldn’t be underestimated: We’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs and $10 billion in sales last year.
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Beer has also been a popular—and necessary--campaign tool. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is sure to raise a mug or two in public as she tries to push through a “selective” ban on fracking. But the ruling coalition is divided on fracking. While the Social Democrats seek a temporary ban and selective ban on fracking; the Green Party wants a permanent ban on fracking, across the board. Merkel’s center-right coalition is presently drafting a law that would put certain conditions on fracking and would seek to protect certain areas. This is too vague for the brewers.
What do the brewers want, exactly? According to a spokesman, they want to make sure that no fracking is done anywhere near their wells. "The water has to be pure and more than half Germany's brewers have their own wells which are situated outside areas that could be protected under the government's current planned legislation on fracking."
In all likelihood, Merkel’s draft law on fracking won’t be passed before September’s election. There is too much opposition even from within the ruling coalition itself, and now that the brewers have stepped onto the stage in a very public capacity, the chances of forward movement on this are even slimmer. So at least for the rest of this year—and importantly for Oktoberfest—German beer will maintain its legendary purity.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com