The Association of German Brewers Says 'Nein!' to Fracking

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There are lots of people out there who oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Much of that opposition relates to the vast quantities of water that need to be injected below ground in order to release previously untapped natural gas deposits. But in the debate over fracking, no one really expected one obstacle that Germans have raised, and that obstacle is beer.

Clark Boyd: Yeah, you certainly do not want to mess with the reinheitsgebot, Marco.

Werman: And that's The World's Clark Boyd who is known to drink a brew or two now and then. And reinheitsgebot, what's that?

Boyd: That is the German purity law, and this was first written down and codified and put into law back in 1516. It's nearly 500 years old. Germans like to point out that it's probably one of the oldest pieces of food and drink regulation in the world. And it basically says that beer in Germany can only be made with the following ingredients: barley, hops, and water. Very simple, very pure.

Werman: Right, so at the time there was no fracking, but presumably they wanted for perpetuity the water to be clean and pure, yeah?

Boyd: There were no specific stipulations about, sort of the cleanliness of the water, but it was just about those three ingredients. But of course, you know, over time as the beer industry has grown in Germany, and it's huge, it's global, it's of massive proportions, you know, it's become very, it's a point of pride among Germans that this, you know, 500 year old law be upheld and that the beer be made as simply and as pure as possible.

Werman: So have the braumeisters in Germany publically come out against fracking?

Boyd: Yeah, the union, the brewer's union there has come out and said that what's going on Marco is that the German government is debating a number of different measures how they're going to regulate this, you know, relatively new way of extracting oil and gas. Some politicians would like to see it outlawed completely; others are proposing changes that would help protect natural resources in Germany. The brewers union says what they're discussing right now, it doesn't go far enough. We can't guarantee the cleanliness, the purity of the German beer, and that's a problem for them.

Werman: And it's a big issue in Germany because the bottom line for the braumeister's and the union is significant. Beer is a major commodity in Germany, isn't it?

Boyd: If you'll just indulge me in a few numbers here. More than 1,300 brewers in Germany, employing more than 25,000 people, it is a 10 billion dollar a year industry. Germans consume 2.4 trillion gallons of beer a year. [Laugh]

Werman: Wow, 2.4 trillion.

Boyd: Yeah, get your head around that.

Werman: I can't. So what's going to be the impact? Does the union carry a lot of weight? Can the beer union in Germany stop fracking there?

Boyd: Well it's certainly, politicians are definitely going to pay attention to it. I've been looking at this story all day, and there are lots of pictures of the German chancellor Angela Merkel who recently was in Bavaria, you know, knocking back one of those big liters of beer.

Werman: Mm-hm.

Boyd: It's certainly a very, very powerful force in German society. You know, what impact just the brewers union coming out against this will have it's kind of hard to say. But let me put it this way, also recently, the German mineral water companies came out against fracking in a very similar vein, nobody paid attention. But the beer companies, the brewers come out against it, you can bet that people are going to pay attention.

Werman: Alright, The World's Clark Boyd, cheers.

Boyd: Thanks.