Originally viewed as one of the most promising countries in
Europe for shale gas development, France recently affirmed its
decision to ban hydraulic fracturing.
By way of background, the 2011 French law—which was found to be constitutional by the French Constitutional Court in 2013—banned hydraulic fracturing and annulled exploration permits that several energy companies had already received, thus prohibiting even exploratory projects to assess the resources and determine whether shale gas exploration should be taken into consideration.
To date, the sole technique for extracting shale oil and gas is hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking." Fracking is a well stimulation technique whereby the gas-bearing rock along the well bore is fractured by high-pressured water, chemicals, and sand, and the sand or similar media is used to keep the cracks open once made so that trapped gas can flow out to the head of the well.
However, in 2012, former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg commissioned a report to investigate alternatives to fracking and especially to the extensive use of water to extract shale gas. Completed in 2014, the report was promptly set aside by the French government, which has repeatedly voiced its opposition to shale gas.
In brief, the report, drafted by multiple experts, recommends the testing in France of an operating technique using nonflammable propane ("NFP"), as an alternative to controversial "fracking." NFP is a liquid currently used as propellant for asthma inhalers or fire extinguishers and is mainly produced by the French-Belgian chemical company Solvay. In essence, the advantages of this technique would be to limit the use of water—a highly contested issue concerning fracking in France—and of chemical additives.
In addition, the report emphasizes the beneficial effects for the French economy: In the best-case scenario, France could have an estimated 3.8 trillion cubic meters of shale gas, which has been predicted to reap an economic benefit of €100 billion and create up to 225,000 jobs.
However, the lack of testing, combined with the fact that NFP is a greenhouse gas, was sufficient justification for the French government to set aside the report. Additionally on April 7, 2015, Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for the Environment, stated in a press release that "reopening the shale gas debate may jeopardize the economic recovery created by the law on energy transition," and that energy companies should instead concentrate on investing in renewable energy.
She concluded by saying that shale gas extraction was no longer a "viable" topic. What will the next chapter be?
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