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Hydraulic fracturing has once again become an issue of heated debate in France, as political parties, industries and the public have all shared different opinions about using the technique to drill for shale gas and oil.
Fracking was banned in the country in 2011 by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy but the matter has surfaced once again, after a recent parliamentary report stated that the ban should be lifted to allow exploration and assessment of available reserves. The report stated that drilling wells in areas where researchers believe there are promising reserves would give the authorities a clearer picture of the overall amount of reserves underground and their recoverability, and possibly lead to a reconsideration of the ban.
According to Deputy Christian Bataille, data regarding the estimated reserves in some parts of France is very outdated, while other data suggests the presence of significant amounts of fuel that could be extracted. The report does not call for a total lifting of the ban but just suggests easing it, so that exploration could start, he added. Drilling works would only happen under controlled conditions and in specifically selected locations, with only some forms of fracking applied, the parliamentary commission wrote in the document.
While Francois Hollande, the current French president, has stated his support for the ban, pressure from businesses is growing. Various industry groups have called for a shift in priorities and have been lobbying for shale gas development, claiming that a revived energy sector would be beneficial for the economy. Development of shale energy would promote growth, reduce unemployment and increase competition among energy providers, business representatives claimed.
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So far, the idea has met with little approval from the government and one of the key reasons for this is the example set by the United States, according to Bloomberg. France's energy minister Delphine Batho stated that the ban would not be lifted in light of the serious environmental damage that fracking has caused in the United States.
In a radio debate, Batho claimed that the U.S. shale energy development may have brought the country great profit but it has also triggered earthquakes, water and air pollution, heavy metal contamination and increased carbon footprint due to heavier truck traffic. While the Unites States is making money from low gas prices, it does not take into account the environmental impact that the industry has created, she said. By contrast, despite the potential economic benefits from fracking, France would prefer to concentrate on developing renewable energy projects, Batho concluded.
According to the International Energy Agency, France and Poland have the biggest potential for developing shale energy, as their reserves are estimated to be easily recoverable. In an interview with Le Monde magazine, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard suggested that Europe could learn from the experience of the United States in fracking and could avoid some of the mistakes it has made to reduce the environmental impact of drilling operations, Bloomberg said.