French Shale Backers Vow to Battle On After Hollande Frack Ban

Oil companies and labor unions vowed to fight on in favor of developing unconventional energies in France after President Francois Hollande said a fracking ban would remain during his five-year mandate.

“We don’t think it’s game over,” said Jean-Louis Schilansky, head of Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, or UFIP, which represents explorers like Total SA.

The oil and gas lobby plans to promote shale development at the government’s national energy policy debate and also push to unblock the granting of exploration licenses for conventional hydrocarbons, frozen since last year, he said.

Hollande said Sept. 14 he would uphold a ban on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in France, one of two nations with the most potentially recoverable shale gas in Europe, because the drilling technique may be hazardous. Hollande also failed to create, as proponents of the method had hoped, a national commission for research into extraction techniques and shale reserves.

France shouldn’t “close the door” on energy research including shale, Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT union, was quoted as saying in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. Preventing exploration is “a bit worrying,” he said. French unions have looked favorably at shale energy as a way to create jobs and energy independence. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace applauded Hollande’s decision.

Permits Rejected

Hollande ordered the rejection of seven exploration permits that companies, including Total, had applied for. These would have required fracking to make them worthwhile, according to Environment Minister Delphine Batho.

Fracking aside, applications for some 100 exploration licenses using conventional methods to search for onshore oil and natural gas have been blocked by the French administration, according to the UFIP lobby.

After French lawmakers voted to ban fracking last year, the administration stopped granting any new exploration licenses, Schilansky said. “What we hope for is that these will be granted and we can continue to work,” he said.

Fracking, which involves blasting shale rock with water, sand and chemicals to extract trapped hydrocarbons, is widely used in the U.S. Conventional drilling doesn’t use this technique and is allowed in France.

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