French Fracking Ban Must Be Eased to Assess Shale, Lawmakers Say

France’s ban on hydraulic fracturing should be eased to estimate the size of its shale oil and gas reserves, according to a parliamentary report.

Dozens of exploration wells could be drilled in regions where seismic data has indicated promising reserves, a report by a French parliamentary commission showed.

“We have to estimate our reserves more precisely,” Socialist Deputy Christian Bataille told a press conference today. Shale oil in the Paris Basin appears “promising” while data on shale gas in southwestern France is outdated, he said.

The recommendations would require changes to France’s 2011 fracking ban implemented by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. His successor Socialist Francois Hollande has said he supports the ban. The country’s business lobbies have stepped up a campaign in recent months in favor of shale energy development, which commonly uses fracking. They argue it would help reverse France’s industrial decline, raise competitiveness through cheaper energy supplies and lower unemployment.

“Everything rests in the way the drilling is carried out,” Senator Jean-Claude Lenoir, a member of the opposition UMP party, said at today’s press conference. “We have many regulations about industrial sites that could apply” to avoid enviromental damage.

Publication of the report comes a day after Energy Minister Delphine Batho rejected any move to relax the ban, citing “considerable” environmental damage in the U.S. caused by the method.

Environmental Dumping

Earthquakes, aquifer pollution, heavy metal contamination, increased truck traffic and damage to the countryside are consequences of fracking, the minister said in a radio debate.

“The U.S. has invented environmental dumping,” Batho said. “Gas prices in the U.S. don’t take into account the cost of environmental damage that future generations will have to pay.”

The recommendations show lawmakers have given in to the interests of the oil lobby groups, said Philippe Pascot, a member of the anti-fracking organization Collectif 91 Non au Gaz de Schiste, “We don’t want fracking in France.”

France and Poland have the greatest potential for recoverable shale gas in Europe, the International Energy Agency has said.

Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie and GDF Suez SA CEO Gerard Mestrallet have urged the government to allow companies to quantify French reserves before making a decision on whether to develop them. Following passage of France’s anti-fracking law, Total was among companies that had exploration permits revoked.

“We may get there,” de Margerie said in a June 2 television interview when asked about the prospects for shale energy development in France.

Both the ruling Socialist and the now-opposition UMP political parties “share in the responsibility of the anti-fracking law because no one wanted to hear about it before 2012 elections,” Lenoir said today. “We now need to convince all political sides” for a change.