BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet signed off on a draft law on Wednesday that imposes an effective ban on the controversial technique of fracking for shale gas.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting chemicals and water at underground rock formations to release trapped gas. Opposition is strong in densely-populated Germany due to concerns about the contamination of drinking water.
"Protecting health and drinking water are priorities. For this reason, we want to prevent fracking as far as possible," Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told a news conference.
The new law, which now goes to parliament for approval, will impose an outright ban on fracking for shale gas in the next few years and only allow test drilling under strict conditions.
Following successful test drilling and the approval of a special committee, the new law could allow commercial fracking from 2019 but only in exceptional cases.
The new law will allow fracking for deep-lying or "tight" gas, a technology that has been used for decades in Germany. But even this type of fracking will be subject to stricter rules and environmental audits, Hendricks said.
(Reporting by Markus Wacker and Caroline Copley; Editing by Madeline Chambers)