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France revokes all shale permits

Companies using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) banned

The French government has cancelled all shale-gas exploration permits in the country. The three licences, Total’s Montelimar and Texas-based Schuepbach Energy’s in Nant and Villeneuve-de-Berg, were cancelled because both companies said they would use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract the unconventional-gas resources.

The government asked the holders of all 64 oil and gas licences in the country, 61 of which are for conventional exploration, to submit reports outlining how they intended to extract conventional or unconventional oil and gas. Any that planned to use fracking – a practice banned by the government earlier this year – had their permits revoked.

The holders of the other 61 permits for conventional exploration “have no plans to search for gas and oil shales … [and] all have made a formal commitment not to use fracking,” the government said in a statement. The ecology and energy ministers, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Eric Besson respectively, claimed fracking was “a problematic technology”.

Out of the blue

Total said the decision was unexpected and came without warning. “We’re very surprised. Until now we have received no official information from the government about the permit,” said a spokesman for the French major. “Total had committed to not using any technique that is banned by law. We are waiting for the government's notification to understand the legal basis on which this permit was cancelled.”

In May, France’s lower house of parliament voted in favour of a ban on fracking, following widespread protests over its environmental effects and discontent that exploration permits were issued by the government at the beginning of the year without public consultation.

The bill was passed by the senate in July, making France the first country in the world to ban fracking. But critics said the ban didn’t go far enough, as it still allowed shale-gas exploration. The law required operators to inform the government within two months if they still planned to frack – now a criminal activity in France. Kosciusko-Morizet said at the time that a ban could trigger legal action from firms.

The US Department of Energy estimates that France could have 180 trillion cubic feet (cf) of recoverable shale-gas resources – the second-largest in Europe after Poland’s 187 trillion cf. Total is working with ExxonMobil to explore for shale gas in Poland’s central Lubin basin.

Poland has no plans to impose a ban on fracking and has even said it would veto any attempts by the EU to introduce pan-European wide regulation of the practice.

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