A report from the French Ministry of the Economy and Industrial Recovery concludes that France could have its own shale gas revolution, with hundreds of billions in revenues and hundreds of thousands of new jobs. What is more, with the help of a unique new technology, based on propane stimulation, the shale gas could be produced without harm to the environment. The report, already produced in June 2014, was, however, ignored by the French government, newspaper Le Figaro has revealed. Meanwhile, the European Commission is being accused by NGO’s Friends of the Earth and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) that it is secretly “promoting” shale gas development in Europe.
The French shale gas report, whose existence was revealed on 6 April by Le Figaro, was drawn up under the responsibility of then-Minister of the Economy, Industrial Recovery and Digital Development, Arnaud Montebourg, who in a foreword issues a dramatic plea for France to develop its shale resources. In Europe, France is thought to have the biggest shale gas reserves, but France is one of very few European countries that has outlawed fracking altogether.
According to Montebourg, who has long been a shale gas supporter, shale gas development “could be, for France, a new environmental and economic revolution”. He notes that “the macroeconomic scenarios based on geological surveys available all suggest very significant potential for growth”.
According to a “probable” scenario, Montebourg notes, “extraction of non-conventional hydrocarbons would generate revenuews of €294 billion over 30 years, whereas a ‘pessimistic’ scenario gives an estimate of about €103 billion.” The probable scenario projects “a growth of 1.7 points of GDP per year over the period, accompanied by a reduction of the trade deficit by 0.8 points and of the public debt by 17.5 points.”
In a surprising twist, the report, which according to Montebourg is based on 20 months of hands-on research, comes out in opposition of hydraulic fracturing. “This report”, writes Montebourg, “reiterates opposition to hydraulic fracturing, a practice we condemn for environmental reasons, because it requires large quantities of water and chemical additives”. Instead, the report makes the case for a new technology, developed by the American company eCorp, based on propane stimulation.
“Spectacular technological progress now enables extraction of shale gas under conditions that respect the environment scrupulously”, writes Montebourg. He notes that “a group of [French] experts travelled to the United States to view an experimental field test of the new technology”. Their conclusions, he says, “make it possible to look at shale gas in a new light”.
The new technique developed by eCorp, which so far has been mainly used in Canada, “involves injecting propane in order to extract underground methane gas, without using any water or chemical additives”. The French experts, says Montebourg, “made a minute analysis” of the technology and concluded that it is “a credible alternative to hydraulic fracturing. This new technique makes it possible to effectively eliminate damages due to the extensive use of water.”
Montebourg adds that “there is an industrial risk that must be controlled. Propane is indeed a flammable gas.” Hence, the Ministry asked eCorp “to perfect a technology that would eliminate the risk of flammability. This was done during the first half of 2013”, making “pure propane stimulation the new technology that will make it possible to extract shale gas while respecting the environment.”
According to Le Figaro, Socialist president Hollande “buried” the report for electoral reasons. The rival Green Party in France is heavily opposed to shale gas development.
The English translation of the Montebourg report can be found here on the website of EcorpStim.
The Technical note attached to the report can be found here: “Exploitation of Source Rock Hydrocarbons through Propane Stimulation”.
Meanwhile in Brussels environmentalist groups Friends of the Earth and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) came out with a press release today (15 April) accusing the European Commission of “opening the back door to fracking”.
“The promotion and expansion of controversial fracking in Europe appears to have become the core aim of an advisory network set up by the European Commission last year.”
According to the two NGo’s, “the body was supposed to assess on-going fracking projects and the safety and appropriateness in Europe of different technologies. Friends of the Earth Europe had originally joined the expert network to highlight the dangers of shale gas development to citizens and the environment. After it became apparent that the pro-shale gas agenda is controlling the group, Friends of the Earth Europe has decided to walk out.”
“While a ‘science and technology network’ on unconventional fossil fuels sounds objective, it’s a complete façade”, said Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “The European Commission is giving the fracking industry all the seats at the top table and crowding out citizens and groups with legitimate concerns about this dirty industry.”
FoE says that “of members who are not employed by the European Commission, over 70% represent or have financial links to the fracking industry, while fewer than 10% represent civil society. (…) Fracking industry giants such as Cuadrilla, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Total, ExxonMobil, and GDF Suez are all represented in what is in essence an in-house shale gas lobby on European Commission energy strategy.”
In a reaction, Shale Gas Europe, which represents the shale gas industry, said that “the Commission was very open and transparent in its approach to all parties to get involved. It isn’t helpful for certain lobbyists such as Friends of the Earth to walk out of an important process only two months after the initial kick off meetings. It’s a political statement rather than a genuine desire to solve Europe’s acute energy challenges.”