German minister seeks fracking law before September

BERLIN Sat Feb 16, 2013 7:05am EST

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BERLIN Feb 16 (Reuters) - German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said on Saturday he wants to ban controversial gas drilling methods, or fracking, in all areas where drinking water is protected and that he would like to see legislation on fracking in place by September.

Speaking in a video released on the government website, Altmaier said there are unresolved issues about fracking. He previously said he did not see that fracking would be employed anywhere in Germany in the foreseeable future.

"I'll propose that we ban fracking in areas where drinking water is protected and for all other areas we'll do environmental comparability testing," Altmaier said in the video. "I assume we'll have an intensive discussion with companies and citizens affected."

Altmaier, who has launched a number of initiatives recently ahead of the campaign for the Sept. 22 election, said the ministry was working closely with the environmental protection office and other agencies on the fracking issue.

"I'd like to see Germany have a law before the election and that we can hold this conversation in a calm and reasonable environment," Altmaier said. "Everyone has to know that nothing can be approved in Germany that's not justifiable."

Fracking involves pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals at high pressure through drill holes, which together with vertical drilling helps prop open shale rocks to release trapped gas.

The upper house of parliament, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition no longer has a majority, earlier this month passed a resolution urging the cabinet to tighten rules for fracking, which critics say may increase seismic risks and even pollute drinking water.

In the United States, the new drilling technique has created a shale gas boom in recent years, freeing the country of the need to import, and changing gas flows and prices in the world market. Germany produces only 14 percent of the gas it consumes and imports 40 percent from Russia.

Industrial gas consumers say they could benefit from fracking, as they need a secure supply at reasonable prices.

But opposition to unknown technologies is growing, and with a national election scheduled for Sept. 22, opposition parties and the government alike are seeking to avoid controversy. (Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; editing by James Jukwey)

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