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Industry hopes France will reconsider shale gas exploration

Afp/Janek Skarzynski

As the French government closed a two-day conference on the nation’s energy future, the French petroleum industry hopes President François Hollande will eventually be swayed to allow shale gas drilling.

Shale gas drilling involves a controversial technique called hydraulic fracking, which uses water to pump chemicals and sand into shale seams to release the natural gas trapped inside.

France banned fracking last year, and environmentalists around the world have campaigned against using this technique.

On Friday, Hollande announced at the conference in Paris that his government rejected seven proposals to use hydraulic drilling to explore shale gas.

“In the current form, no one can say that gas and shale exploration through hydraulic drilling, the only technique known today, is not exempt from posing great health and environment risks,” he said.

French newspapers took the comments to mean that Hollande has closed the door on shale gas exploration.

But the president of the French Union for Petroleum Industries (Ufip), Jean-Louis Schilansky, says the debate on shale gas exploration is not over.

“We hope that the door remains slightly open. It was closed today. But technology will evolve and as this technology develops, we will continue to open the debate. We don’t consider the debate has been closed forever,” he says.

In addition, he says, France, which is believed to have one of the largest shale gas deposits in the world, could benefit from this energy source.

“The gas consumption is there. We import 98 percent of the gas that we use,” he argues.

For the moment, the Socialist-led government is pushing its message for a renewable energy future.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, announced there will be two tenders by December for two large wind farms to be built in the sea off northern France: one near Tréport in Upper Normandie, and the second near the island of Noirmoutier, off the Atlantic coast of France.

“It is a very important investment, but it is also a big asset for French industry,” he declared.

“This is the way for us to reduce our consumption of hydrocarbons and reduce its impact on public health.”

The two sites could produce around 1,000 megawatts of electricity, and comes on the back of the previous government’s decision to build four wind farms.

Ayrault also announced that, for the upcoming budget, the government will propose to raise the general tax on polluting industries, called TGAP, which was introduced in 1999.

Earlier on Friday, François Hollande reaffirmed the government’s commitment to move away from its heavy reliance on nuclear energy, from 75 percent of energy needs to 50 percent by 2025.

Hollande promised to close the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, Fessenheim, by 2016, a year earlier than promised.

He told the conference he wanted France to become a country of “environmental excellence”, adding he would push for the European Union to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, and by 60 per cent by 2040.

The French President also announced France would be ready to host a United Nations climate conference in 2015, the year when the world is due to sign an accord to limit global warming to no more than two degrees.

Jean Marc-Ayrault says the government will open a debate on energy transition within the next few weeks.

Jean-Louis Schilansky, the president of the industry group Ufip, says he hopes energy companies will be able to participate, adding he is not sure whether shale gas exploration will be discussed.