French Lobby Group Brands Shale Ban 'Extremist'
NGW asked the director of the Non-Conventional Hydrocarbons Centre (CHNC) Jean-Louis Schilansky about the state of the shale gas debate in France after the passing of the mining code reform in the National Assembly which includes a complete ban of shale gas exploration.
NGW: Mr Schilansky, from your viewpoint, what does this new legislative effort reveal about the state of the shale gas debate in France?
A bill that bans all exploration by any technique raises questions. Disregarding potential technical progress is an extreme approach. There is no country in the world with a similar legislation and no country has banned research in this industry in particular.
That’s politically motivated right before the presidential election campaign. The shale gas issue is politically easy for the majority in the national assembly. We will see if this legislative effort moves forward in the senate before the legislative session ends (February 23). It shows a political and ideological approach towards shale gas that is going to be hard to overcome.
Though there is no alternative technique to hydraulic fracturing, that technique has been dramatically improved over the past ten years to reduce the economic costs and the impact on the environment. It uses less water and sand, less (or different) chemical additives and needs a smaller footprint. Politicians should look at these technical advances before deciding.
A recent poll showed that three out of four French people oppose shale gas developments. Why is the proportion so high?
Shale gas defenders must do their mea culpa [accept responsibility]. We have failed to explain what the shale gas debate is about.
I am all in favour of reducing oil and gas consumption but forgoing the possibility of assessing the subsoil to extract a part of the energy we use is a mistake. Today’s challenge is more about demand than supply. If we do not produce ourselves, we will buy the energy we need in countries where it is produced.
We also have a hard time explaining that the techniques are constantly changing. Shale gas and oil have transformed the energy landscape and will continue to do so and France has deliberately kept itself out of it.
Speaking of politics, could the results of the upcoming elections change the nature of the debate especially if conservatives, more open to shale gas exploration, take back control of the national assembly?
We will see how the elections are going to end up but I certainly hope the next government will fully implement the 2011 law with the creation of the commission of evaluation on fracking to know exactly what the situation is both economically and technically with detailed facts.
That’s a measured approach to get the necessary knowledge.
We are not thinking about starting shale gas operations tomorrow. We are years from launching any potential developments but barring the doors by refusing to see and know what our subsoil is made of is an extremist position.
Of course, I would have preferred a moratorium instead of a legal ban of hydraulic fracturing but we are not going to undo the law.
The decree establishing the commission and the way it should operate was published in early 2012 before the presidential election but has never been enforced. Back then, it was too politically risky to put it in place. Once again, the debate is back in the parliament in a pre-election period. Frankly, I do not see the creation of this commission as a top priority of the next government. We will see.
While the French parliament discusses a complete ban of shale gas explorations, the country imports natural gas resources from the US to fulfill its energy needs. Isn’t a French paradox?
Absolutely. We are not going to refuse a LNG cargo because it contains shale gas. First, once liquefied, there is no difference between conventional and non-conventional gas resources. Second, twelve years from now, shale gas will represent a third of the world supply according to IEA forecasts.
There is no way of escape from this reality. Beside the US and Canada, Argentina has a significant production of shale oil and shale gas, China has important resources of shale gas and the United Kingdom will start its first developments in 2017. We will watch closely how it’s going to happen. It will be a sort of a pilot experiment in western Europe.
Mr Schilansky, thank you.