France to Keep Shale Ban Until Fracking Alternative Emerges

France isn’t prepared to tap its shale energy resources until “clean technologies” are invented to replace hydraulic fracturing, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said.

The technique known as fracking causes “irreversible pollution” in some cases, the minister was cited as saying in an interview published today in Les Echos newspaper. It will probably be replaced by a different method, he said.

The French parliament passed a law last year outlawing fracking 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.

France will maintain the ban on fracking, Environment and Energy Minister Delphine Batho told RMC radio today.

Debate over the future of shale energy in France has resurfaced since the election of Socialist President Francois Hollande in May.

“Hydraulic fracturing is and will remain banned and currently it’s the only way to produce shale gas,” Batho said today. “Debate is now centered on a technology that doesn’t exist right now to my knowledge. A new technique hasn’t yet been demonstrated.”

French energy companies and industry officials have increasingly argued in recent months in favor of exploring for shale oil and natural gas in a bid to quantify reserves of shale hydrocarbons in France.

Courage Needed

Total Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie said today France should have the “courage” to explore for shale gas.

“When we are in a difficult economic situation like today and we have the possibility to maybe find gas, which is cleaner than oil and coal, and as we are questioning nuclear, it would be too bad not to develop gas,” he said in a radio interview on RTL. Environmental issues “would have to be addressed as we go along,” the CEO said.

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.

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.

France and Poland are the two countries with the biggest potentially recoverable reserves of shale gas in Europe, according to the International Energy Agency.

The French law banning fracking allows for experiments into the procedure overseen by a national commission that must report back to the government annually. It’s not clear whether the new government will install this commission.

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