July 30, 2014 / 1:40 PM / in 3 years

German Environment Agency calls for rules preventing fracking

July 30 (Reuters) - Germany’s Environment Agency said it wanted to make fracking practically impossible to head off the risk that the technique for extracting gas could contaminate groundwater with chemicals.

The agency’s view, in a report on Wednesday, feeds into a fierce debate about fracking as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government draws up new rules on water protection and mining, which will determine the future policy toward fracking.

The report contained recommendations the agency will make to the government on the new rules.

Hydraulic fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into rock formations underground to push out gas and other hydrocarbons.

Many Germans oppose fracking for shale gas because of fears that it could contaminate drinking water and cause other environmental problems.

“Basically, we believe that the dangers of this technology are too great,” Federal Environment Agency President Maria Krautzberger told reporters.

“Lawmakers should end this extremely unsatisfactory situation quickly,” she said, adding that while a general ban on fracking would be legally difficult, fast and tough legal safeguards could result in a similar effect.

A deterioration in ties with Russia over the Ukraine crisis has fueled the debate on fracking and raised pressure on Europe, especially Germany, to cut its reliance on Russian gas.

Guenther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Energy who is a member of Merkel’s conservatives, said this month Germany should keep its options open when it comes to fracking.

The Environment Agency advises the environment ministry, which is jointly responsible with the economy and energy ministry for drawing up rules affecting fracking.

A spokeswoman for the environment ministry said draft laws on fracking would be presented to the cabinet after the summer break. She added that the rules laid out in the water protection law - the responsibility of the environment ministry - would mean that fracking would be ruled out in the foreseeable future.

Germany’s ruling parties promised in last year’s coalition deal to set a legal framework for fracking, saying it had significant potential for risk and rejecting the use of chemicals.

Oettinger has estimated that Europe could get a tenth of its power needs through the extraction of shale gas.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences (BGR) two years ago put the country’s shale gas potential between 0.7 trillion and 2.3 trillion cubic meters.

The new guidelines will include environmental audits and a ban on drilling in places where water is protected.

They are expected, however, to allow fracking to resume for tight gas, which usually lies deeper underground and poses less of a risk to groundwater. Fracking had been used in Germany for decades in tight gas formations until two years ago. Since then, there has been an effective moratorium on new permits.

Fracking has boomed in the United States, where shale has become an important source of gas. Industry has warned that Germany could lose its competitive edge if it does not use its shale gas reserves, given lower U.S. prices for energy. (Writing by Emma Anderson; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Jane Baird)

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