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Germany lays down rules for 'fracking'
by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) Feb 26, 2013


The German government drew up Tuesday rules for the oil and gas technique of "fracking" to be carried out in Germany in a move slammed by opposition parties as opening the door to environmental dangers.

Under a draft proposal by the economy and environment ministries, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, fracking -- the subject of fierce debate here -- would be banned in areas where there are water reserves and mineral springs.

This is a concession to public opinion amid serious concerns about safety, as well as the environmental and health effects of the technology.

In addition, rigorous studies into the environmental impact would be undertaken at each proposed site, the paper said.

But the far-left opposition party, Die Linke, slammed the proposals as hypocritical.

"It's a sham. It pretends to provide increased environmental protection when in truth it offers less," said the party's environment spokeswoman, Eva Bulling-Schroeter.

"The government's main aim is not to introduce additional protective standards but to break the de-facto moratorium on this absurd technology," she said.

Bulling-Schroeter argued the rules' main aim was to neutralise public protest.

The technology of "hydraulic fracturing" has unlocked immense gas and oil resources and changed the geopolitics of energy.

But it remains highly controversial, with widespread, serious worries for the environment and the health of people living near the "fracking" locations.

It has been banned in France since 2011.

German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier has promised to introduce legislation on the topic before federal elections on September 22.

Chancellor Angela Merkel recently expressed caution about the technology, pointing out that, unlike large areas of the United States where fracking is carried out, Germany is a very densely populated country.

Since its invention in 2007, "fracking" has become the gold rush of the 21st century, with tens of billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Environment minister Altmaier said in a statement the proposals represented "an important breakthrough to contain the dangers of fracking."

"Safety and environmental protection have priority over economic interests," the minister said.

"It's a signal that we're serious about protecting the environment and people."

Nevertheless, the untapped underground oil and gas reserves -- for gas alone they are estimated at as much as 2.3 trillion cubic metres -- represent a "significant" source of energy for the future, the ministries pointed out.

"Domestic oil and gas production will continue to make a substantial contribution to the security of supply and price stability in Germany," as the country has pledged to abandon nuclear energy entirely by 2022, the ministries said.

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