Global Fracking Resources
According to the European Parliamentary Research Service (“EPRS”), France has the second largest shale reserves in Europe after Poland.1 The EIA estimates that France has 137 trillion-cubic feet (“tcf”) of technically recoverable shale gas resources.2 The country’s most prominent shale reserves are located in several regions including the Paris Basin and the South-East Basin.3 These reserves are unlikely to be developed in the near term, however, because hydraulic fracturing has been banned by the French Government since 2011.4
USEIA Report at XIII-1
In April 2015, Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper, leaked a government-commissioned report that looked into a safer alternative for fracking.5 Le Figaro claimed that the report had been buried by the French government.6 The report suggested that France’s shale gas could be developed with an alternative technology that uses non-flammable flouropropane, does not require water, and is more environmentally friendly.7
More recently, France has begun to explore legal means through which it could ban the importation of shale gas from the United States.8 Critics of the potential ban have called it “unworkable,” as convention and unconventional gases are typically mixed to together during transportation.9
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
Since 2011, French law has banned any use of hydraulic fracturing techniques in the exploration and development of gas reserves in France.10 Following the law’s 2011 enactment, the Ministry of Ecology revoked permits held by Schuepbach Energy and Total SA that would have allowed both companies to explore shale gas reserves on the grounds that the companies would have used fracking in their exploration activities.11 France’s constitutional court upheld the ban and the subsequent revocation of exploration permits in October 2013, holding that the 2011 law conformed to France’s constitution.12
More recently, both Schuepbach Energy and Total SA appealed the revocation of their permits that were invalidated following passage of the ban in 2011. While Schuepbach Energy’s appeal was rejected in an administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise in December 2015,13 Total SA received a favorable decision from the same court in January 2016.14 The French government has said it will appeal the decision.15 Until the law banning hydraulic fracturing is amended or repealed—or an alternative to fracking is developed to produce shale gas reserves—the prospects for developing shale gas in France seem remote.
1 European Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS), Shale Gas and EU Energy Security 2-3 (Dec. 2014), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2014/542167/EPRS_BRI(2014)542167_REV1_EN.pdf.
2 EIA had previously estimated in 2011 that France had 180 tcf. The 2013 number reflects better data from France’s Southeast Basin. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources: An Assessment of 137 Shale Formations in 41 Countries Outside the United States 6 (Updated June 13, 2013) hereinafter USEIA Report], http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/worldshalegas/pdf/fullreport.pdf.
3 USEIA Report, supra note 2, at XIII-1.
4 EPRS, supra note 1, at 5.
5 Kevin Bonnaud, Buried Report: Shale Gas Not Safe For Hollande’s Political Health, Natural Gas Europe (Apr. 13, 2015), http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/france-shale-gas-buried-report-23159.
7 Id.; Dramatic Shale Gas Plea Falls on Deaf Ears in Paris, But Brussels “Opens Back Door to Fracking,“ Energy Post (Apr. 15, 2015), http://www.energypost.eu/dramatic-french-shale-gas-plea-falls-deaf-ears-paris-brussels-opens-back-door-fracking/.
8 France Studying Possible Ban on Import of U.S. Shale Gas – Minister, Reuters (May 10, 2016), http://www.reuters.com/article/france-usa-shalegas-idUSL5N1875VT.
9 Francois De Beaupuy, Total CEO Says Royal’s Proposed Shale-Gas Ban Isn’t Workable, Bloomberg (May 18, 2016), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-18/total-ceo-says-royal-s-proposed-shale-gas-ban-isn-t-workable.
11 France Revokes All Shale Permits, petroleum-economist.com (Oct. 4, 2011), http://www.petroleum-economist.com/Article/2911785/France-revokes-all-shale-permits.html.
12 Fracking Ban Upheld by French Court, BBC News (Oct. 11, 2013), http://www.bbc.com/news/business-24489986.
13 Kevin Bonnaud, Ruling: France Will Remain Fracking Free, Natural Gas Europe (Dec. 29, 2015), http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/france-fracking-free-shale-gas-schuepbach?utm_source=Natural+Gas+Europe+Newsletter&utm_campaign=a33da583f2-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c95c702d4c-a33da583f2-307804485.
14 Kevin Bonnaud, French Government Will Appeal Court Decision on Total Permit, Natural Gas Europe (Jan. 31, 2016), http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/french-government-will-appeal-court-decision-on-total-permit-27896.