US oil company ExxonMobil, along with energy firms from Australia, Canada and Germany have been granted permission by the state to conduct test drilling that will cost millions, the WAZ media group reported.
Citing an answer from state Economy Minister Harry Voigtsberger to a Green party state parliamentary inquiry into the matter, the paper said that the drilling would span across land equalling almost half of the state's size.
The focal point will be near the northern Münsterland region. ExxonMobil plans to begin drilling in Borken, Steinfurt and Nordwalde soon. Other regions include the northern and southern Ruhr Valley and counties in Sauerland.
The Green party told the paper they had been blindsided by the news.
“We are surprised,” said federal parliamentary energy expert for the Greens Oliver Krischer. “We didn't know a thing. The claims were staked quietly and secretly.”
The natural gas in question is “unconventional,” stored in rock strata and coal seams, and can only be extracted with great effort, he said.
The Greens fear that extraction methods could damage ground water, and citizens in the Münsterland region have already founded an initiative to fight the drilling, the paper said.