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France may permit shale gas exploitation, Prime Minister Ayrault says

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

France’s Socialist government may permit the exploitation of shale gas, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday. But, he added, it would be on condition that it did not lead to pollution or environmental damage.


France’s previous right-wing government at first issued 64 permits but then reversed its stance and banned shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking”, after an outcry over its alleged effects on the environment.

Parliamentary elections 2012

Environmental campaigners and residents’ pressure groups have called on the government to maintain the ban and rule out extraction by any other method.

But Ayrault told French TV Wednesday that the question would be on the agenda of a national conference on environmental policy to held on 14 September.

“For the moment all permits for the hydraulic fracture system which has devastating effects are forbidden,” he said.

But “different solutions might exist … which may not pollute or harmful to the environment or the quality of the landscape,” he added, pledging to discuss any “technical solutions” if they exist.

Along with Poland, France probably has the greatest potential reserves of shale gas in Europe, according to the International Energy Agency.

Opponents of shale gas extraction, who say that it has caused seismic trouble and water and soil pollution, fear that lobby groups, such as that sponsored by oil company Total in France, will try and spin the debate in favour of unsafe methods.

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