France can frack without destroying environment

Natural-gas extraction from shale is possible without destroying the environment, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said today, seeking to circumvent a presidential pledge to retain a ban on hydraulic fracturing.

“A new generation of clean technologies can allow extraction without destruction,” Montebourg told an energy conference in Paris.

Energy explorers in France, which with Poland is deemed by the International Energy Agency to have the greatest potential for recoverable shale gas in Europe, are pushing for a reversal of the ban on fracturing, or fracking. Opponents of the technique, which blasts a sand and chemical solution into rock to release gas, claim it contaminates underground water supply.

“Occasional harm from fracking is a reality,” Montebourg said. Should gas use rise to replace nuclear output, “it would be better to produce it here than import it. This question has to be put on the table.”

France is about to begin a national energy debate about President Francois Hollande’s plan to lower dependence on atomic energy. He has already pledged to shut the country’s oldest nuclear reactor at Fessenheim at the end of 2016.

The Senate this month requested a report on alternatives to fracking that may “allow the resources to be better evaluated” and developed under strict guidelines. The ban on fracking, a method widely used in the U.S., was passed last year by lawmakers before presidential and parliamentary elections.

Energy explorers have since lobbied the government to allow research to quantify shale reserves in the hope that prospects for job creation and cheaper energy would help lift the ban. While Montebourg has spoken favorably about shale, Energy Minister Delphine Batho has said the fracking ban should stand.