The conventional wisdom of shale gas in France is that it's banned and that's that, which is vital in the European shale debate. Greens and financial antis unite in the perception that since France has banned shale, it gives cover to attempts to slow down, ban or simply dismiss any long term impact of shale in Europe. I've been saying all along, as someone active in France that it's far more nuanced than that, and that after the Presidential election of this Sunday and the legislative elections of June, France will return to rationality.
Francois Hollande is the only candidate who has said anything positive about shale gas during the campaign. It will take one of biggest upsets in years for Sarkozy to be re-elected and it would appear that in the face of the reality, even a key member of his team is saying things that wouldn't have dared be mentioned only a few days ago:
France could reconsider its ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing in the exploration of shale gas if the technique can be proven to be safe, French economy minister Eric Besson said Thursday.
Speaking at the 13th International Oil Summit in Paris, Besson said the subject was not closed in France.
He said that so far, shale gas explorers had been unable to prove that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was not harmful to the environment.
"That doesn't mean the subject is closed -- it could be reopened tomorrow," Besson said, adding that by tomorrow he meant over the next few years.
But this would only happen if operators "can prove the safety of the technique."
The debate won't reopen tomorrow. But Monday is looking good. As for safety, that issue can be addressed as easily in French as in English. UK civil servants won't speak to me for some strange reason, but the many French ones I have been speaking to all along are convinced that with a better public information campaign, stressing science over emotion, the country of Descartes will inevitably access shale.
Meanwhile in the UK, having been subjected to the Alistair Buchanan and Sam Laidlaw show at Economist Energy Conferences the past two years, I decided to pass this year. Typically, in my absence, a key UK policy maker came out for shale:
While saying that the UK cannot rely on fossil fuels, whose price will rise due to rising demand, Yeo, a veteran Tory environmentalist, advocated that “we should exploit the shale gas resources we have in this country".
Note the continuing delusion about fossil fuels rising, but let's be thankful Yeo noted the obvious solution. But over at the Guardian, who ignored the shale word in their report, it was all the same old rubbish:
A senior Conservative has warned that dithering ministers and weak civil servants were risking the lights going out in Britain.
Tim Yeo, the chairman of the Commons energy committee, said there could be no further delays on taking vital decisions needed to build wind farms and nuclear stations.
The chances of any lights going out in the UK are far lower than any chance of gas contaminating aquifers, causing earthquakes or emitting more carbon than coal. But they've been spouting this rubbish before, so why stop what has been a nice little earner for years?:
"In the frigid opening days of 2009, Britain’s electricity demand peaked at 59GW.
Just over 45% of that came from power plants fuelled by gas from the North Sea.
A further 35% or so came from coal, less than 15% from nuclear power and the rest from
a hotch-potch of other sources. By 2015, assuming that modest economic growth resumes,
a reasonable guess is that Britain will need around 64GW to cope with similar conditions."
"How long till the lights go out?", The Economist, August 6th 2009.
Dumb question in 2009, absolutely delusional in 2012. But fear makes so much more money! At least France can be depended on to be rational.
UPDATE , more on what Besson said:
[Le gaz de schiste] est aujourd'hui une opportunité extraordinaire partout dans le monde, y compris en Europe"
Shale gas is today an extrordinary opportunity throughout the world, and that includes Europe.