German Beer Brewers Win Fracking Protection for Spring

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Beer Drinking in Munich
Beer is ever-present at Germany’s thousands of biergartens and at celebrations such as Munich’s Oktoberfest. Photographer: Guido Krzikowski/Bloomberg

German brewers have won the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to protect the springs they use from fracking, which they say could taint the purity of their beer.

The government plans to allow federal states to identify locations where fracking can’t take place to preserve the quality of the ground water used by brewers and producers of bottled mineral water, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

“We need clean water to produce our beer,” said Friedrich Duell, president of the Bavarian Brewers Association and whose 350-year-old brewery in Krautheim, Franconia operates two wells. “If our wells aren’t protected our business is threatened. Fracking is a high-risk technology and we’ve seen water tainted in other countries often enough.”

The country’s 8-billion euro ($9.1 billion) brewing industry argues fracking for natural gas could endanger the quality of their beer, which is protected by the world’s oldest food-safety regulation still in effect. Beer is ever-present at Germany’s thousands of biergartens and at celebrations such as Munich’s Oktoberfest. Merkel was among politicians last week seen partaking of the beverage at the annual Carnival festivities.

The Reinheitsgebot, or “purity law,” was drafted in 1516 and states that only malted barley, hops and water may go into beer. Yeast, which had not yet been discovered at the time, was later added to the list.

Test Wells

Fracking is unpopular in Germany even as Merkel’s government is keen to develop domestic energy sources as it closes nuclear plants by 2022. While companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. have drilled test wells into unconventional gas reservoirs in Germany to emulate the U.S. shale-gas boom, little headway has been made because of public opposition.

German industry lobbies including the VCI chemical union have in the past called on the government to allow fracking, pointing to a U.S. boom that helped lower energy prices and lift the competitiveness of the U.S. industry. The government has left the door open to possibly using the technique -- which involves drilling hundreds of wells and cracking rocks with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to unlock gas or oil from impermeable stone -- in the future.

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