Reuters Berlin

GERMANY’S environment minister did not want to make it easy for companies to start using controversial gas drilling methods, he said yesterday, dampening explorers’ hopes of tapping new energy sources on their doorstep.

Pending rules for drilling techniques known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, were likely to be tightened, Peter Altmaier, a conservative politician in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, said.

“The message is we want to limit fracking, we don’t want to facilitate it,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio. “Anyway I don’t see in the foreseeable future that fracking will be employed anywhere within Germany.”

Fracking involves pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals at high pressure through drill holes, which together with vertical drilling helps prop open shale rocks to release trapped gas.

Altmaier said he would recommend that interested parties refrain from applying for exploration licences. Only a few small initiatives are under way in the absence of clear-cut rules.

The upper house of parliament, where Merkel’s governing coalition no longer has a majority, passed a resolution earlier this month urging the cabinet to tighten rules for fracking, which critics say may increase seismic risks and even pollute drinking water.

ExxonMobil and BASF’s oil and gas arm, Wintershall, are pushing to explore possibilities but in the federal country, each state can decide whether or not to issue permits.

Germany produces 14 percent of the gas it consumes and imports 40 percent from Russia. Industrial gas consumers say they could benefit from fracking, as they need a secure supply at reasonable prices.

But opposition to unknown technologies is growing, and with a national election scheduled for September 22, opposition parties and the government alike are seeking to avoid controversy. Rules for burying captured carbon from coal-fired power stations have already been watered down so much that the technology is practically dead in Germany.