* Fracking wrong and an overrated solution - Minister
* Drinking water, health a priority
* Government expected to present draft fracking law this
By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN, June 5 The German government made clear
on Thursday that new rules it is preparing on the controversial
technique of fracking for gas would set tough environmental
standards that will all but rule out the widespread exploration
of shale gas.
News on Wednesday that Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar
Gabriel is working on new guidelines for fracking had raised
hopes that Germany was opening the door to shale gas extraction
despite concerns about its environmental impact.
However, while the new rules will allow a resumption of
fracking for deep-lying, or "tight" gas after a two-year
moratorium, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said they
would stop well short of giving a green light to shale gas.
"I think fracking is not only a wrong but also an overrated
solution to the energy question," Hendricks told the Ruhr
Nachrichten newspaper. "Drinking water and health are the
Hendricks, who is jointly responsible for legislation on
fracking with Gabriel, said she expected the government to
present a draft law on fracking this year.
"According to what was agreed in the coalition deal,
unconventional fracking using toxic substances, in particular
for shale gas, will be banned," said Hendricks, like Gabriel, a
member of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) who share power
with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water and chemicals at
high pressure through drill holes to prop open rocks. Many
Germans oppose it due to environmental worries, in particular
fears about the possible contamination of drinking water.
But German industry, worried that rising energy costs at
home and a shale gas boom in the United States are hurting
competitiveness, is keen to exploit Germany's shale gas
reserves. The Ukraine crisis has also stoked a debate here about
reducing Germany's dependence on Russian gas imports.
Yet even in Lower Saxony, home to 95 percent of Germany's
gas reserves, politicians are wary of the methods used in the
Olaf Lies, the economy minister of the state of Lower
Saxony, told Reuters that while he wants a clear legal framework
to allow fracking for conventional gas, he was against fracking
for shale gas which is usually found nearer to water supplies.
His state has tried to speed up an end to the ban on
fracking for tight gas with a legal initiative in the Bundesrat
"Fracking in shale gas rocks has not yet been practically
tested and is linked to unforeseeable environmental risks.
Therefore, the government of Lower Saxony rejects fracking of
unconventional deposits," said Lies in emailed answers to
Germany's WEG oil and gas association welcomed the prospect
of a clear legal framework which Merkel's conservatives and the
Social Democrats (SPD) had outlined in a 2013 coalition deal
which stressed the potential environmental risks of fracking.
"We think the conditions will be tough but we hope this will
at least be a first step and that we can push ahead with
fracking for conventional tight gas, of course under the terms
set for environmental checks," said a WEG spokeswoman.
"At a later stage we hope we will be able to research our
shale gas potential," she said, adding the rules had been a long
time in the pipeline.
Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences (BGR) two years
ago put shale gas potential between 0.7 trillion and 2.3
trillion cubic metres.
Some companies, including the Wintershall oil and gas unit
of chemicals group BASF, have long lobbied to maintain
existing gas production and look for new domestic resources.
The company welcomed any steps that would help develop
conventional gas reserves with the help of hydraulic fracturing
and said Germany should also allow research into fracking for
shale gas to better assess the risks involved.
"It's important to enable research in this field,
irrespective of whether or not there will be future commercial
use in Germany," said a spokesman.
Germany's BDI industry association says that Germany could
cover more than 35 percent of its gas consumption from domestic
sources in the next few decades.
"The most important lesson from the tensions with Russia is
that Germany has to focus more on domestic raw materials. The
BDI thinks that the extraction of shale gas by fracking should
be possible, of course with the guarantee of environmental
protection," the BDI said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin and Ludwig Burger; editing
by Susan Thomas)