Germany’s government has published a draft law that paves the way for the extraction of shale gas resources using the controversial technique known as fracking.

Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party and its junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, have reached agreement on far-reaching regulations for the shale gas industry.

If passed, the regulations would help to kick-start shale gas exploration and extraction in Germany, which is planning to close its nuclear power plants.

The regulations are designed to restrict fracking to regions away from drinking water aquifers and protected areas. Environmental impact studies would be mandatory for any project.

Fracking involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals, under pressure, deep into the ground to release the gas held in rock formations. Widespread use of the technology in the USA has revolutionised the country’s oil and gas sector over the last ten years but has also led to concerns over the environmental impacts of fracking.

Environmental lobby groups believe that fracking can lead to contamination of water supplies as well as a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany’s industrial lobby has been putting pressure on the government to develop the country’s shale gas resources in order to boost the economy and to help the country transition to renewable energy.

Germany’s shale gas resources are estimated to be 2300 billion cubic metres (bcm). ExxonMobil and Wintershall are planning to undertake test drilling programmes in Germany as soon as possible.