French Drillers Fight Back in Defense of Shale Gas Fracking

Natural gas and oil can be safely produced from shale rock in France without lasting consequences for the environment, according to a lobby backing the energy that has enraged opponents.

“The wind is changing” in France, Friends of Drillers, an organization of oil industry workers, said in a letter published yesterday on its website. Environmentalists are “feeding fears” against developing shale energies, it said.

The letter is the latest salvo in a war of words that erupted this month between the lobby and Corinne Lepage, a French member of the European Parliament and environmental lawyer who favors maintaining France’s ban against hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, a technology needed to extract gas and oil from shale.

French parliament passed a law last year outlawing 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. Fracking is widely used in the U.S., including by Total, to produce gas.

A “web of lies” is how Lepage described in an Aug. 10 letter arguments by the drillers’ association that wells can be safely bored into shale rock and fluids and chemicals needed for fracking can be treated.

For her part, Lepage was responding to two letters sent by the drillers the week before to Environment Minister Delphine Batho and Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg that called for a reversal of the French ban as a way to improve the country’s finances and unemployment rate. Production of oil and natural gas in France would reduce the need for imports and provide industry jobs, the drillers said.

Mixed Message

Debate over the future of shale energy in France has resurfaced since the election of Socialist President Francois Hollande in May. Ministers Batho and Montebourg have made comments on shale prospects that appear contradictory.

The government is “totally opposed” to fracking, Batho said July 24. “As it stands now this technique is risky for the environment and health and that is why France banned it.”

In contrast, Montebourg said July 20 that shale energy is “not a banned subject” for debate and that “there is no government position.”

Shale energy will be discussed at an environmental policy conference organized by the government on Sept. 14 and Sept. 15, Batho has said. A debate focused on the country’s energy policy will come later.

Shale Boom

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.

The shale gas boom helped the U.S. meet 81 percent of its energy demand in 2011, the most since 1992, according to energy department data compiled by Bloomberg.

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