Originally viewed as one of the most promising countries in Europe for shale gas development, in 2011 the French government imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas due to concerns about its potential impact on the environment. Several exploration licenses have since been revoked. On 14 September 2012, President Francois Hollande announced a continued ban on hydraulic fracturing in France and called for the revocation of seven outstanding permit applications for hydraulic fracturing operations. This has sparked debate in France on the issue of shale gas both within society, industry and the government.

Size of the opportunity

According to a United States Energy Information Administration study, carried out without exploratory drilling, France has technically recoverable reserves of 3.8 trillion cubic metres (137 trillion cubic feet). In the EIA’s survey of 14 European countries, France was second only to Poland in its level of shale gas deposits, and significantly larger than the closest reserve of 1.4 trillion cubic metres (51 trillion cubic feet) in Romania.  However, with the current ban on hydraulic fracturing operations the true size of resources may not become clear for years to come.

Impact on energy security

According to statistics from the Department for Sustainable DevelopmentFrance is largely dependent on nuclear energy and uses gas to cover only 14% of its gross inland consumption. However, despite this consumption, France relies completely on imports from countries such as Russia – which is responsible for 14% of imports – Nigeria, Egypt and Qatar. Its import dependency ratio for gas stood at 92.1% in 2010, according to Eurostat. In September 2012 President Hollande announced a pledge to cut France’s share of nuclear in its energy mix from 75% to 50%. This leaves the question of which forms of energy will fill the gap created.

Impact on the economy

Prior to the imposition of the moratorium, France was the most promising market in Europe, after Poland, for shale gas exploration and extraction, and was therefore set to attract large investments. The Minister for Industrial Renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, has repeatedly made calls for a debate on shale gas in France in light of its potential benefits for the economy. SIA Conseil, a consultancy cited by a recent parliamentary report, stated that around 100,000 jobs could be created due to shale gas by 2020, if 20% of the estimated reserves can be retrieved.

Government policy

France imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in 2011 and subsequently revoked several exploration licenses. On the 14th of September 2012 President Hollande reaffirmed the ban on hydraulic fracturing in France for the remainder of his presidential term. Yet a recent report from the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST) has endorsed shale gas exploration, highlighting that the  technique has already been used in France at least 45 times without any harmful consequences to the environment.

With different ministries having an interest in the future of shale gas exploration in France, notably the difference of opinion between the ministries of environment and industry, the debate on government policy will likely continue.