Germany to set new rules for fracking

BERLIN Wed Jun 4, 2014 10:53am EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany plans to draw up new rules in the coming weeks for the controversial method of fracking for gas, which will impose tight restrictions on the technique that has led to a shale gas boom in the United States.

The guidelines will include environmental audits and a ban on drilling in areas where water is protected. Germany's ruling parties had promised in their coalition agreement last year to set a legal framework for fracking.

Hydraulic fracking involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure through drill holes to prop open rocks. Many Germans oppose it due to environmental worries, especially fears about possible contamination of drinking water.

The technology was used in Germany for decades for deep-lying, or "tight" gas, but there has been an effective moratorium on the granting of new permits for the past two years, pending the new rules.

Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel outlined his plans to draft the guidelines in a letter dated May 23 to the head of the parliamentary budget committee.

"The goal is to finalize these drafts in the coming weeks," the letter said, adding that the aim was to get a version ready for the cabinet to approve before the summer recess.

Fracking has been embraced in the United States to obtain shale gas cheaply. But in the coalition deal agreed between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and Gabriel's Social Democrats (SPD), the section on fracking mentions a "significant potential for risk" and rejects the use of chemicals.

Last month the state of Lower Saxony, which holds 95 percent of Germany's gas reserves, tried to speed up an end to the ban on fracking for tight gas by saying it would take a draft law to the Bundesrat upper house..

(Reporting by Markus Wacket and Gernot Heller; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin and Susan Thomas)

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