French Government ‘Totally Opposed’ to Fracking, Batho Says

The French government is “totally opposed” to hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process to produce natural gas and oil from shale, French Environment and Energy Minister Delphine Batho said.

“As it stands now this technique is risky for the environment and health and that is why France banned it,” Batho said today in Paris after a meeting between Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and environmental groups. “The prime minister confirmed we remain opposed to hydraulic fracturing. The position is perfectly clear.”

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is widely used in the U.S. The French parliament passed a law last year banning the process because of concern it can pollute drinking water, effectively halting plans by companies including Total SA to explore for shale gas in southern France. Divisions within the French government surfaced last week after Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg called for a debate on shale resources.

“The government is clearly leaving the door open,” Jean-Francois Julliard, director of Greenpeace France, said today after meeting with Ayrault. “If tomorrow the oil companies have another technique, I think it would be used. This worries us.”

Fracking uses water, sand and chemicals to open fissures in rocks and release gas and oil. Following passage of the French law in parliament, the previous government suspended the rights of energy companies to explore for shale gas around Paris and in southern France. Oil companies including Total, the nation’s largest, and Toreador Resources Corp. had been awarded licenses for exploration.

Shale energy will be part of a debate on environmental policy as will any possible new taxes on carbon, Batho said today. That debate is scheduled for Sept. 14 and 15 while one on energy will begin afterwards.

“Hydraulic fracturing is today the only technique for exploration and production of shale gas,” Batho said. “Today there is no other technique, but if there is one we would have a democractic debate.”

Geological problems are created by fracking while chemicals used in the process can migrate to water aquifers, she said.

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