France Should Explore Potential of Shale Resources, Senator Says

France should allow exploration for shale oil and gas to gauge potential reserves even after banning hydraulic fracturing used to extract the fuels, the author of a report into alternative technologies told fellow lawmakers.

“We can’t close the door to research,” said Jean-Claude Lenoir, a senator who’s researching the alternatives to so-called fracking, banned in 2011. “Good sense tells us we should allow exploration to see how much resources we actually have.” He spoke at a parliamentary hearing into his report today.

President Francois Hollande said in September he backed the fracking ban because of dangers to the environment. Opponents of the method, which blasts sand and chemicals into shale rock to release fuel, say it can contaminate underground water supplies. France and Poland have the greatest potential for recoverable shale gas in Europe, the International Energy Agency says.

Energy explorers in France want a reversal of the ban as the economy is weakening and industry complains of losing out to U.S. competitors benefiting from cheaper domestic shale energy.

“Fracking has progressed enormously in recent years,” Lenoir told the lawmakers today. “It seems to be the most effective method to develop unconventional hydrocarbons.”

They also listened to representatives of Total SA, Europe’s biggest oil company and Vermilion Energy Inc., France’s largest oil producer. Total has shale operations in the U.S. and Poland and Vermilion carried out fracking in France before the ban.

Scientists and energy-policy analysts also presented views, which mostly favored allowing research into shale resources.


“France may have non-negligible shale resources,” said IEA analyst Christian Besson. “One really has to drill wells to get an idea” of whether it’s profitable. “The vast majority of fracking pollution incidents aren’t linked to drilling but to accidents on the ground.” Damage may be limited with safer chemicals and treating water used in drilling, he said.

The Senate requested the report into alternatives to fracking, which was banned by lawmakers before elections.

Explorers have lobbied the government to allow research into the size of shale reserves in the hope prospects for job creation and cheaper energy spur an end to the ban. Energy Minister Delphine Batho says the ban should stand and Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg has spoken in favor of shale.

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