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France votes to ban fracing

Ban not good enough say environmentalists

FRANCE has edged closer to becoming the first country in the world to prohibit hydraulic fracturing (fracing) after the country’s lower house of parliament voted 287-186 in favour of a ban.

After the 11 May vote in the National Assembly, the bill will go to the senate for a 1 June vote.

The vote follows widespread protests over fracing’s environmental impact and discontent that several exploration permits were issued by the government at the beginning of the year without any public consultation.

Critics of fracing, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into shale rock to release hydrocarbons, claim the bill does not go far enough.

The wording of the resolution, which was proposed by ruling UMP party lawmakers, changed in the last week, causing concern among environmentalists. The original bill would have revoked existing unconventional oil and gas licences and barred any fresh exploration.

But the new wording of the bill, which was amended after a government meeting on 4 May, states that, within two months of a new law being passed, operators must provide a detailed account of how they intend to extract the resources.

Operator’s licences would then only be revoked if this information was not disclosed or if their plans “refer to the use, or possible use of fracing of the rock”, the bill states.

A cup half empty

But the revision has been criticised by environmentalists. Activist group Say No To Shale Gas said the amendment was “totally unacceptable” and “opens the door for petroleum companies to retain their permits and begin drilling”.

The French government imposed a moratorium on drilling for shale gas and oil in February after protests over the alleged environmental impact of developing the resources.

If the bill is passed, it would affect companies such as Vermilion Energy, which has acreage in the Lias shale-oil play east of Paris, France's Total and Toreador Resources, which is active in the Paris basin.

Toreador’s chief executive, Craig McKenzie, told PEU in October there is “tremendous shale-oil potential” in the Paris basin, pegging its unconventional oil reserves at around 100 billion barrels.

A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said France could have 180 trillion cubic feet (cf) of recoverable shale-gas resources – almost as much as Poland.

Poland, which has estimated shale-gas reserves of 187 trillion cf, according to the EIA, has no plans to impose a ban on shale-gas development. Henryk Jacek Jezierski, deputy environment minister and chief geologist, said fracing can be safely implemented in Poland.

"Because we have effective environmental legislation and efficient control institutions, we have no intention to introduce a moratorium on shale-gas exploration," said Jezierski.

"It [shale gas] is the hope for Poland to strengthen the country's energy security," he added.

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