French Senate to Debate Shale Law Allowing ‘Scientific’ Fracking

French Senators will start debating June 1 a proposed law that would ban explorers in France from using hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas from shale rock except for “scientific projects.”

The bill is different from one passed May 11 at the National Assembly under which explorers using the technique, known as fracking, would face fines and jail and the cancellation of their exploration permits.

Projects allowed under the Senate proposal would aim to “evaluating hydraulic fracturing or alternative techniques,” according to the lawmakers’ website. Public inquiries would have to approve of the experiments and a specially created commission overseen by the government would regulate the work. It isn’t clear whether companies could carry out the research.

Hydraulic fracturing, widely used in North America, uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected under high pressure to break dense rock to release oil and gas trapped within. Green groups and politicians led protests across France, saying drilling wells and fracturing the underground rock could cause environmental damage. French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has said she backs the ban.

The Senate proposal could be modified during debate and voted on as early as June 1. A parliamentary commission will have to agree on language of the law if the bills in the lower and upper houses aren’t the same.

Prison, Fines

The Senate proposal, like the National Assembly, allows for the possibility of canceling permits already granted to companies including Total SA, Vermilion Energy Inc. and Toreador Resources Corp. if they plan to use hydraulic fracturing. Explorers using the method would face a 75,000-euro ($108,000) fine and a year in prison.

The French oil companies’ association Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres has said it supports pilot projects to evaluate the technology.

The National Assembly bill and Senate proposal require energy companies to submit a report on what techniques they plan to use in their search for hydrocarbons. If they aim to use fracking, their permits will be canceled.

Toreador last quarter planned to drill the first of three wells at the Chateau Thierry permit outside Paris to explore for shale oil, while Vermilion Energy was planning to fracture shale in three existing wells after exploration last year, the government and companies have said.

Total holds the southern French Montelimar permit for shale gas while GDF Suez SA has had talks with Schuepbach Energy LLC on taking a stake in two permits the company holds in southern France to explore for unconventional gas.

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