Fracking endangers German beer purity

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Don't frack around with our beer. That's the message German brewers are sending out to the shale gas industry in their country. They are concerned that fracking, pumping high pressure water and chemicals into the ground to extract the gas, will affect the purity of the water they use to make some of the world's finest beers.

The German brewing industry maintains strict quality levels by sticking rigidly to centuries-old purity rules decreeing that only water, hops, yeast and malt are used in the brewing process. Brewers usually have their own sources of pure water from springs and wells. The worry is that fracking activities would affect the quality of the water.

"The water has to be pure," a spokesman for the industry said, pointing out that more than half the breweries used water sources which are unprotected by the German government's proposed legislation. "You cannot be sure that the water won't be polluted by chemicals, so we have urged the government to carry out more research before it goes ahead with a fracking law."

In its attempts to find a new source of fossil fuels, Germany could be endangering one of its oldest and most important industries. Germany is the largest producer of beer in Europe, with more than 1,300 breweries, producing over 5,000 different beers.

In Bavaria, traditionally one of Germany's most conservative regions, there is a looming clash of interests between industrialists keen to tap into Germany's shale gas reserves and traditionalists upset at the possible damage to the purity of the brews celebrated annually at Oktoberfest.

This is a complex dispute that is unlikely to be settled over a stein or two with Angela Merkel. Her centre-right coalition is keen to push through fracking legislation but the beer question could be a vital issue in September's German elections.

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