Efforts to replicate in Europe the United States’ shale gas success took another blow Friday when French President Francois Hollande said that a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would remain in place during his five-year term. Hollande, the candidate of the Socialist party, became president following a two-round election earlier this year.
The ban on fracking, which was initiated in 2011 by his predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy, will remain in place due to health and environmental concerns, Hollande said at an environmental conference in Paris. And Hollande said his government would reject seven applications for exploration permits, which reportedly require fracking operations and which “legitimately raised concern in several regions of France.”
In published reports in France, representatives of labor unions and the energy industry, including Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, were critical of the fracking ban and said they would challenge its inclusion in the government’s national energy policy.
London-based analyst Chatham House has said a growing realization is dawning for European shale gas operators that “serious” man-made and technical obstacles may block attempts to replicate U.S. experiences with shale gas (see Shale Daily, Aug. 24). “Environmentally based opposition to shale gas operations is growing apace, especially in Europe, and the debate is becoming increasingly polarized and even vicious,” according to Chatham House analyst Paul Stevens.
Prospects for shale operations may be better in the United Kingdom, where a recent review by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that operational best practices and “robustly enforced” regulation can make fracking a safe practice (see Shale Daily, July 6). The UK’s Bowland Basin is estimated to contain as much as 200 Tcf (see Shale Daily, Sept. 26, 2011).
Germany’s shale plays could also hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, according to figures released by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, a government geosciences authority (see Shale Daily, July 5). Natural gas is drawing increasing interest in Germany as it, too, looks to phase out nuclear power generation (see Shale Daily, Oct. 26, 2011). Like many other countries in Europe, Germany is also looking to reduce its reliance on Russia for natural gas.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes Europe holds 10% of global shale gas reserves, a figure that admittedly relies on data from limited exploration activities (see Shale Daily, April 7, 2011). Although Europe isn’t producing natural gas from shale yet, 16 countries on the continent — including Germany — are believed to hold shale gas reserves. Exploratory wells have been drilled in Austria, England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Sweden.
ExxonMobil Corp. recently announced it was ending shale gas exploration efforts in Poland after two test wells yielded disappointing results (see Shale Daily, June 19). Analysts with Ernst and Young Global Ltd., as well as officials with Russia’s natural gas giant OAO Gazprom, have also waxed pessimistic on Europe’s shale prospects (see Shale Daily, Dec. 6, 2011; Dec. 1, 2011).
In addition to banning fracking operations, Hollande said his government will shut down the Fessenheim nuclear power station by 2016 and would make one million homes energy efficient annually. He also called on the European Union to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 60% within a decade after that.
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