France to Keep Fracking Ban to Protect Environment, Sarkozy Says

France will maintain a ban on fracking until there is proof that shale gas exploration won’t harm the environment or “massacre” the landscape, President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

“Development of hydrocarbon resources underground is strategic for our country but not at any price,” Sarkozy said during a visit to Ales in southern France. “This won’t be done until it has been shown that technologies used for development respect the environment, the complex nature of soil and water networks.”

The French government plans to revoke shale permits, including one held by Total SA (FP), because of concerns over the environmental repercussions of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which was made illegal in July. This process, widely used in North America, involves pumping water and chemicals into rock to release gas.

The government is in the process of canceling the Montelimar permit held by Total and the Nant and Villeneuve-de- Berg licenses granted to Schuepbach Energy LLC, according to a statement yesterday from the environment and industry ministries. Lawmakers voted to make fracking illegal last June, making France the first country in the world with such a ban.

‘Massacre’ of Mountains

Development of shale gas reserves in these regions could come “at the price of fragmenting the soil that would massacre the almost spiritual scenery” of the Causses and Cevennes mountain landscape, which was added as a UNESCO’s world heritage site in June, Sarkozy said today.

Ales, where Sarkozy made his speech, is at the foot of the Cevennes mountains in the Gard department, which borders Aveyron, where European Green party lawmaker and prominent anti- fracking campaigner Jose Bove is based.

“We had to cancel the permits but research must continue,” Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said earlier on iTele television. “All big developed countries are trying to find non-polluting technologies to develop this incredible resource.”

Describing fracking as “potentially toxic,” she said France needs “alternative energies and shale gas is one of them.”

Total, Europe’s third-biggest oil company, had urged the government to allow it to push ahead with exploring Montelimar without using fracking. The company said it would use conventional exploration methods to evaluate the potential of the permit and did “not envisage the use of the hydraulic fracturing technique.”

Awaiting Notification

“We have had no official notification about the future of this permit,” Total spokeswoman Sandra Dante said by telephone. “We are waiting for this information to see the legal basis of the decision to revoke the permit.”

Total’s report to the French administration on exploration plans for the permit “contained no ambiguity” that the company would not use fracking, she said.

Schuepbach’s press service didn’t immediately respond to a message requesting comment left on its answering machine.

Total is producing natural gas from U.S. shale. The French company entered the business last year when it agreed to pay $800 million for 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s assets in the Barnett Shale field in Texas. Total also plans to develop unconventional gas in Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark and Poland, company executives have said. Total is now readying to start drilling in Argentina.

Conventional Deposits

In addition to Total and Schuepbach, companies including Vermilion Energy Inc. (VET) and Toreador Resources Corp. (TRGL) hold permits in the Paris Basin where they planned to explore for shale oil. Vermilion had already drilled a well using fracking technology.

Out of a total of 64 exploration permits in France, the holders of 61 have now said they won’t look for shale oil and gas or will limit their operations to conventional deposits, the government said yesterday. Anyone caught using hydraulic fracturing in France faces fines and prison under the ban.

The world will need to move beyond traditional fields to ensure energy security, the International Energy Agency said.

“Development of unconventional gas is welcome,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said today at a press conference in Paris. “Shale gas can be produced in a sustainable way without harming the environment.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at tpatel2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net

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