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Minister calls for German debate on fracking

Germany's environment minister has called for wider public debate on gas extraction through the practice of fracking. Opponents fear it could have environmental consequences.

The gas extraction process of fracking should only be allowed to take place in Germany under strict conditions, according to a new report presented by the country's Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) on Thursday.

"The Federal Environment Agency, on the basis of this report, recommends
that, for now, we should refrain from large-scale use [of fracking]," UBA President Jochen Flasbarth said in Berlin on Thursday.

Fracking is a method for retrieving gas trapped in layered formations of rock by injecting high-pressure water. The potential for gas exploitation through fracking is believed to be enormous: According to the UBA, Germany could meet all its gas needs for 13 years through use of the method.

The US also seems to have benefited economically since it expanded the use of fracking. But there are reports that America has paid a large ecological price.

Serious German reservations

In Germany, enthusiasm for fracking is decidedly lukewarm. Environment Minister Peter Altmaier has shown himself to be skeptical about the extensive use of the technology in the country. Educational and citizen initiatives against fracking have also taken shape, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Opponents to fracking have specifically expressed fears about the contamination of drinking water with toxic chemicals. Such concerns were echoed in Thursday's report. "One can draw the conclusion from the report that fracking should not be allowed in water areas," said Altmaier.

Peter Altmaier (CDU) dpa/lbn

Peter Altmaier's enthusiasm for fracking is lukewarm

According to the UBA, 14 percent of land in Germany is designated as protected drinking water area. Flasbarth has demanded that fracking should be outlawed in those areas. In addition, there have been calls for environmental impact assessments to be mandatory before any drilling takes place in a given area.

Thoroughness before haste

It will be some months before any decisions on fracking are written into German law. Altmaier has made it clear the process should not be rushed, and there needs to be a broad public debate on the findings of the report.

"For me, thoroughness goes before haste," Altmaier said.

In December, an expert forum will precede the creation of national legislation on fracking in the Bundestag.

sej / rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)