EU energy chief says EU to look at fracking this year

FRANKFURT Mon May 20, 2013 2:10am EDT

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger addresses a news conference on the security of energy supply and international cooperation at the EU Commission headquarters, in Brussels September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger addresses a news conference on the security of energy supply and international cooperation at the EU Commission headquarters, in Brussels September 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Environmental concerns over the practice of hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas will be on the European Union's agenda this year, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told a German newspaper.

"It is absolutely right to seek to protect areas where there is drinking and ground water, like at Lake Constance. At an EU level the topic of fracking and environmental protection will be looked at more closely this year," Die Welt quoted Oettinger as saying in an article published in its online edition on Monday.

Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to open up the shale and release the gas. Critics say fracking could increase seismic risks and pollute drinking water.

Oettinger repeated his warning that Germany should not be too quick to reject fracking as an option, according to Die Welt, saying the country "should see the potential that shale gas has and create the necessary legal framework for demonstration projects and practical tests."

"If we allow test drilling we will be much smarter in a few years and know more about the costs, too. That would be very advisable for an engineering country like Germany," he said.

Companies including ExxonMobil and BASF's oil and gas arm Wintershall are pushing to explore possibilities for fracking in Germany, and industrial gas consumers say they could benefit as they need a secure supply at reasonable prices.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced reservations, saying risks to people and the environment needed to be evaluated carefully.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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