Germany Opens Door to Commercial Fracking in Merkel Bill

Germany may allow commercial drilling for shale gas, a process it had vowed wouldn’t be possible for the foreseeable future.

German authorities plan to allow exploratory commercial drilling starting in 2019 at depths of less than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) with “strict” environmental limits to advance usage of the technology and after case-by-case decisions, according to draft legislation obtained by Bloomberg News.

The new rules “don’t generally prevent the development of the fracking technology but tie it to the fulfillment of the necessary requirements to avoid any damages to environment and health,” according to the bill drafted by the Environment Ministry.

That’s a reversal from a previous plan to ban any commercial fracking and allow only scientific drilling. Fracking is unpopular in Germany, though Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is keen to develop domestic energy sources as it phases out nuclear power 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.

Under the German proposal, companies would be able to drill for shale gas if:

-- they successfully completed exploratory drilling under scientific supervision with fluids that don’t harm the environment;

-- an independent commission of experts agrees that commercial fracking at the site wouldn’t harm the environment or cause earthquakes;

-- and once local authorities, who are not bound to the commission’s verdict, permit drilling.

Germany should allow fracking in response to a U.S. boom that helped lower energy prices and lift the competitiveness of U.S. industry, the VCI chemical industry lobby said in a statement.

Even with the amended bill, “the hurdles for companies are extremely high,” the group said.

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