Bruno Courme, head of Total's Global Shale Operations told Le Club Energie & Developement annual meeting in Paris yesterday that the French shale ban was based on "mesconnaisances complets" which roughly translated means total misunderstanding. Similarly, Philipe Geiger, a sub-director in the Direction Generale de l'Energies and du Climat said that the French shale ban was put in place because the government "did not receive convincing evidence" to counter-act the allegations of pollution. Some might say that French shale still has a long to go, but I was encouraged that a rational discussion of the reality of French shale energy was taking place in a conventional audience of over 400 people including senior politicians.The fact alone that we have moved from let's just ban it to talking about it is significant. Even more significantly, it's was taken as fact that nothing at all could possibly happen this side of the Presidential and Legislative elections. Bang goes that theory.
French shale gas regulators and politicians have been described to me as "experts sans expertise", and that has been fairly evident in the limited conversations that time and money allow. Having said that, with the help of others, I have higher and broader levels of access in France than I've had in the UK, and the issue in France is moving away from simply being a lack of information to a truly informed discussion
I figured out last night that this was actually the sixth time I've made the Eurostar trip over the past year, but with shale opposition growing in the UK even as actual news becomes increasingly optimistic, I can't be in two places at once. I had to miss two events in Westminster yesterday on shale including this one, but more on that later.
Even the French press has noticed as this Le Figaro story shows, the "spectacular success" of US shale. Similarly today Le Monde report that Total is taking the government to court. Business site Usine Nouvelle echoes the story as do several others. Slowly, but surely, the other side of the shale story is being presented.
I again underline the significance of shale being discussed at all in this stage of the elecoral cycle. It can only bode well for the vital post election period that both sides are now represented. The role of shale in the US recovery is not going to be lost on any European country and will only contribute to a new debate based less on emotion and more on reality.
What happens in France impacts shale opposition throughout the world. France's shale ban is constantly cited by opponents in places as far away as South Africa, New York State, the UK and naturally Quebec. A gradual realignment of French policy to reality is to be welcomed by shale companies anywhere.
But what of the other side of the French debate? A counter-colloqium was organised by opponents a few blocks away. After a good lunch (who ever has a bad one in France?) I made my way to that event. My observations on that later, because one needs to understand the other point of view to better defend one's own.