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French minister supports allowing 'clean' shale gas fracking

Feb. 3, 2014 at 12:02 AM   |   Comments

PARIS, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- A split over France's ban on shale gas development has emerged within the government, with one minister supporting an experimental type of "clean fracking."

French Minister for Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg, a member of President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party, is calling on the president to reconsider his opposition to hydraulic fracturing due to what he calls the emergence of environmentally safer methods to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock.

Despite Hollande's public reiteration in July of opposition, on environmental grounds, to any exploitation of shale gas during his tenure, Montebourg has renewed his efforts to push for a change in policy -- touting a potential of a type of fracking that uses fluoropropane, rather than a mix of water and chemical additives, to break apart underground rock formations.

Other ministers, including Housing Minister Cecile Duflot of the Green Party, or EELV, and Socialist Ecology Minister Philippe Martin, remain staunchly opposed, revealing a split within governing the Socialist Green coalition.

"We can have disagreements in a majority coalition with our Green Party friends, but I do not accept that (subject of shale gas) should be the victim of a form of intellectual terrorism," Montebourg said last week on the radio network Europe 1, pointing to the development of "clean alternatives" to traditional hydraulic fracturing.

A report published by the French weekly Le Canard Enchaine indicated Montebourg is backing a proposal to allow local governments to decide whether they want to allow fracking by employing fluoropropane, a non-flammable liquid used as a propellant in inhalers and fire extinguishers, as an alternative to the banned techniques.

The fluoropropane method is being developed by the Texas company EcorpStim but has yet to be tested in France.

The most common method to tap shale gas is to inject high-pressure streams of water mixed with chemicals into bedrock formations, prompting natural gas to bubble up. But this approach carries the risk of groundwater pollution and even earthquakes.

The other method being employed in the United States is to use propane, which eliminates the need for chemicals. However, there are risks of explosions. The risks would be greater in France, where the population is much denser than in the United States, and each well would have to be put in highest category in terms of industrial risk.

Le Figaro reported a study published in November by the French Parliamentary Office for Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices found that while costly, the use of fluoropropane has the advantage of "removing 100 percent of the industrial risks."

Montebourg, however, has found himself isolated within the government on the issue.

Duflot told public broadcaster France Info the pro-shale gas arguments are being "fed by lobbyists and economic interests," while Martin said the proposal ignores the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions, Le Figaro reported.

"The question for me is whether we can afford to operate new high-CO2-emitting fossil fuels while we have set a target to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our consumption hydrocarbons by 30 percent by 2030," he said.

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