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French shale ban threat met with Gallic shrug

Operators play down fears as Senate vote looms

FRANCE may become the first country in the world to ban hydraulic fracturing, but operators seem unfazed by the prospect. On 8 June, the country’s Senate will resume debating a law which would ban operators in France from using the process.

But the move has been met with a mix of bafflement and indifference by operators. Xavier Herve, Parker Drilling’s business development manager, told Petroleum Economist the proposed ban was “all political” and engineered to pander to anti-shale gas sentiment in France.

And the thought any ban could be reversed after France’s general election next year. Longer term, France is still an attractive option for operators hoping to crack into the unconventional market because of its vast resource potential, he added.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) claimed in a recent report France could have 180 trillion cubic feet (cf) of recoverable shale-gas reserves compared with 800 billion cf of proved conventional gas reserves. France’s shale gas reserves are surpassed in Europe only by Poland’s 187 trillion cf, according to the US government.

France imports the majority of its natural gas – so domestic shale-gas production would bolster the country’s energy security.

Lost opportunity?

Francisco Fragachan, Trican’s business development manager, told Petroleum Economist France “can’t afford to let this opportunity pass it by”.

France could also have vast resources of shale oil too. If the Senate approves the bill banning fracing it will affect companies such as Toreador Resources, which had hoped to explore for shale oil in its Chateau Thierry acreage, in the Paris basin. Toreador told Petroleum Economist last year there could be 1 billion barrels of shale oil in that basin alone.

“Some of the Paris basin numbers are huge”, said Dan Jarvie, a consulting Geochemist at Realm Energy. And they should underpin profitable development of the basin, if the drillers are ever allowed in.

The proposed bill states that fracing may be allowed as part of scientific experiments and if projects are approved by the public. A government-run commission would also have to monitor the work.

The bill has come under fire from environmentalists who claim the government has been pandering to industry lobbying after several changes were made to the wording of the resolution shortly before voting.

The original bill, proposed by the ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the party of France President Nicolas Sarkozy, changed in the week before the 11 May vote. It originally stated that unconventional oil and gas licences, awarded to companies such as Total and Toreador Resources, would be revoked and new applications would be blocked.

After a 4 May government meeting this was amended to state that operators must submit a detailed proposal of how they intend to extract unconventional resources within two months of a new law being passed. Operators’ licences would then only be revoked if they failed to disclose the report or if they intended to use fracing to develop unconventional resources. The bill was supported by France’s National Assembly on 11 May.

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