* New estimate is optimistic, exceeds earlier figures
* Says if rules are in place, drilling risks can be curbed
By Vera Eckert
FRANKFURT, June 25 Unconventional gas reserves
in Germany amount to trillions of cubic metres (cbm) and can be
safely exploited if the right rules are in place, federal
authorities said on Monday with the release of the first
findings of an ongoing long-term study.
The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources
(BGR) said between 0.7 trillion and 2.3 trillion cbm of the gas
could be technically extracted.
This is calculated as a 10 percent extraction rate they
believe is achievable from the 6.8 trillion-22.6 trillion cbm of
shale gas they have located in the country.
"Germany has a significant shale gas potential," the
Hanover-based authority said in a press statement.
It said modern drilling techniques called fracking for the
exploitation of shale gas reserves could be reconciled with the
need to safeguard drinking water and prevent seismic risks.
"From a geoscientific perspective, an environmentally
acceptable use of these (fracking) technologies is possible,
provided legally mandated rules are adhered to, necessary
technical measures are taken and preliminary explorations at
each site are made," it added.
Most of the so-called unconventional deposits are located in
northern Germany and some on the Upper Rhine in the south-west.
Shale gas could help to mitigate the effects of dwindling
conventional gas resources, BGR said.
Indigenous gas production has dropped to 14 percent of total
annual German gas consumption, which amounted to 842 billion
kilowatt hours last year, according to industry
Companies like ExxonMobil are among big players
pushing for Germany to develop its unconventional gas despite
scepticism over the novel drilling methods.
The findings by the Hanover scientists are nearly three
times what ExxonMobil earlier this year estimated as German
unconventional gas potential, when it pegged it at 827 billion
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping vast
quantities of water and chemicals at high pressure through drill
holes to prop open shale rocks and release gas trapped
A parliamentary committee is dealing with the shale gas
potential of six of Germany's 15 states and has not yet come a
conclusion regarding recommendations or warnings. The findings
are likely to be published in the autumn.
North-Rhine Westphalia, home to mining and utilities, in
2010 awarded exploration licences to 10 international firms.
In the United States, vertical drilling processes have
brought about a shale gas boom in recent years, as so far
untapped resources have become available, freeing the country of
importing needs and changing gas flows in the world market.
Germany relies mainly on imported pipeline gas for heating,
transport and industrial applications where it would like to
reduce its dependency on Russia's 40 percent market share.
But aversion to environmentally unproven energy technology
Critics of shale gas worry that fracking fluids might get
into groundwater-holding aquifers and that the method uses too
much water and risks causing earthquakes.
France has banned fracking but coal-reliant Poland has
granted 112 shale exploration licences in the hope of a shale
gas boom of its own, although it recently had to reduce
estimates for its reserves.
The BGR is to continue exploring the sector in a project
stretching to 2015, called NiKo, in order to capture all
potential rock formations and risks where it partners with the
United States Geological survey (USGS).
(Editing by James Jukwey)