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France: 'Buried shale gas report' kicks off new row

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France: 'Buried shale gas report' kicks off new row
The extraction of shale gas has long proved divisive in France. Photo: AFP
09:47 CEST+02:00
The row over whether France should exploit its deep reserves of shale gas was unexpectedly back on the table on Tuesday after it emerged the French government had buried a controversial report that suggested alternative and safer methods to mine the gas other than the much-maligned "fracking".
The French government was left embarrassed on Tuesday after it emerged that a controversial report, in which experts stated France's shale gas deposits could be cleanly removed without the need for the divisive hydraulic fracturing or fracking, had been buried to keep the Greens onside.
 
The report, that looked into alternatives to the system of fracking, was commissioned in 2013 by former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg - an outspoken advocate for clean mining of shale gas.
 
The "confidential" report was finished in 2014 but then passed on to the French government which has repeatedly taken the line that mining for shale gas was not a possibility because of the harm done to the environment by fracking.
 
It seems the report, which suggested safer and greener alternatives to "fracking", was then buried, until Tuesday that is, when French newspaper Le Figaro published a story on its findings.
 
The experts' report claimed that France's shale gas deposits could be exploited using the "clean technology" of non-flammable propane, meaning there would be no need for controversial hydraulic drilling.

Montebourg himself has refused to comment on the report, but confirmed its authenticity. 
 
The fact that the government hid a potentially game-changing report has proved divisive. 
 
Newspaper France Soir labelled it "an embarrassment" that the government could hide information about a move that would reportedly lead to earnings for France of €100 billion and that would create between 120,000 and 225,000 new jobs.  
 
Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal, meanwhile, responded to Le Figaro on Twitter, saying that the government had "nothing to hide" and that shale gas extraction was no longer a "valid" topic.
 
Shale gas and its extraction have also proved divisive in recent years. 
 
While France has an estimated 3.8 trillion cubic metres of the gas underground, environmentalists argue that the fracking process of extracting it would be too harmful to the environment.
 
Opponents say the process, which involves drilling down deep into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside, leads to irreparable environmental damage and can even cause earthquakes.
 
Environmentalists say energy companies should concentrate on investing in renewable energy resources rather than ways of exploiting shale gas.
 
Fracking was banned in France in 2011, a move that was upheld by the constitutional court in 2013.
 
Shale gas is having a radical effect on global energy markets, driven by massive increases in production in Canada and particularly the United States, where falling natural gas prices are credited with giving a big boost to industrial productivity.
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