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Urgent Stock Market Message

French Can-Can Use Fracking - Only For Geothermal Heat

Politics / Energy Resources Apr 05, 2013 - 05:46 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


In a major policy twist on the subject of hydraulic fracturing ('fracking'), France's Ecology minister Delphine Batho has announced that fracking is now politically-correct, clean, safe and approved by all right-thinking (we mean left-thinking) ecologists. Her party machine, the EELV, or Europe Ecologie Les Verts only exists, today, thanks to Francois Hollande's choice of including "greenies" in his vastly unpopular government. EELV is now all-but collapsed as a vote-winner. In 2012, it gained a minuscule 2.5% of votes in the presidential elections with its candidate the retired anti-corruption magistrate Eva Joly, who is Norwegian origin and despite working in France for decades still has problems talking French. Supposedly that made her even more 'chic et choc' when she led the battle against fracking, with high-rank EELV party faithfuls like Jose Bove, who among other things struggles against GM foods and the McDonald burger threat "a mortal attack on French culture".

Francois Hollande, never at a loss when choosing failed causes to promote on primetime, and selecting failed and-or corrupt politicians to stuff his ministries, was at times loquacious, even 'passionate' (if that applies to what Gerard Depardieu calls a small-time politician from a back-country departement that always ran a budget deficit), about the "open and clear dangers" of fracking. Under absolutely no circumstance would it be permitted in France. Conversely it was fine and dandy for the French Total oil corporation to extract gas by fracking overseas, and import it for French to use in France. That is realpolitik - or simple hypocrisy! Hollande, who really does have other things on his mind - like trying to save his presidency - is now playing coy on the subject. His glove puppet ministers do the twist for him. Hollande Can-Can do the Twist.

Adding the cream on the cherry pie, for hypocrisy, French media suggests that now authorized fracking to produce geothermal heat "could also produce shale gas as a side product".

Above all, the French government sniffs cash, and with a 4.8 percent-of-GDP spending deficit for 2013 (against the 3.5 percent it announced for weeks on end) any possible new source of more revenue looks attractive. The same applies to Yoko Ono whose 'Artists Against Fracking' is churning out CD vinyls with instantly forgettable tubes like "Dont Frack My Mother", or grandmother in the case of Yoko.

Environment minister Batho awarded two geothermal exploration licenses in February and said 18 more are under review. Carefully avoiding the Ono No-No word "fracking' the processes for tapping volcanic heat by permeabilising underground rock are described as “stimulation” that blast acid and water into fissures to release heat. The similarities between these processes, and the way US explorers fracture shale and other strata to extract gas and oil are a lot bigger than their differences.

Making the political twist-of-knickers even more laughable in France, Hollande's Parti Socialiste government has grown enthusiastic, if not volcanic red hot about generating power from underground heat reservoirs because, at present and from the mouth of Hollande, France will officially close one-only nuclear reactor (it has 63 operating at present) by or before 2017. That is the above-ground storyline but below it, up to 4 and possibly even more reactors might have to be "programmed for closure by 2020". And not for anything remotely linked to the failed Comfort Ecology whinings of the EELV and its turncoat night flitters (now calling themselves Parti Socialiste). This concerns the bottom lines of EDF, RTE, Areva and the balance sheets of other French nuclear-dependent industries  - all of them 100% dependent on government handouts and bail-outs when periodic financial crises drive them to the brink. Geothermal energy could or might replace nuclear reactors.

As presidential candidate Francois Hollande pledged  "lower dependence" on atomic power, his speehcwriters masterfully twisting the numbers so they can be interpreted anyway you want, but at the same time Hollande came down hard on fracking, for its "known and certain", "serious health and environmental risks". The moment he arrived in a midsized sedan car at the Elysees Palace (which "Sarko" quit in a luxury limousine), Hollande canceled shale gas exploration licenses held by Total SA , by US-based Schuepbach Energy, and by a string of smaller and independent companies.

Now described as something of an existential question in France, we have the question: "When is fracking not fracking?" Showing the always-frothy mix and mingle of hypocrisy and mental confusion that inhabits the mind of party-faithfuls, the Ecology ministry's Energy division told a Paris-based high level industry contact meeting, this week, that "Geothermal fracking" will continue to be authorized because "The law hasn't banned it". This would instantly forget the last 10 months during which any kind of fracking, all kinds of fracking, was interdit.

At the heart of the dispute is whether French government authorization for the “stimulation” of rock fissures with pressurized water, acids and other additives to access and transport geothermal heat is comparable to oil and gas fracking, in which shale is shattered using high- pressure water, sand and chemicals to release hydrocarbons. Any normal person would say yes.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency says that France is presently and only "fracking for geothermal". Like the US Geological Service, the IEA has produced estimates for possible shale gas resources in Europe and other OECD countries. In the case of France, USGS and IEA reports suggest its possible shale gas endowment is equivalent to about 180 years of current total national natural gas consumption. France's high import bill for natural gas, covering more than 90 percent of present consumption, especially include gas imported from Algeria and the micro-emirate Qatar, currently uing its French-origin gas revenues not only to arm and aid Syrian fundemanetalist fighters against Bashr el Assad, but to buy out a string of luxury hotels in France, the Printemps shop chain, and Paris St Germain football club while creating funds to aid Muslim-only youngsters in French slum suburbs to run business operations that the French media says extend into "highly dubious domains".

Compared with the approximate 370 GW of currently operating world nuclear power capacity, geothermal is still far behind at about 11 GW. Potential capacity is however extreme - but at present is economically competitive only in exceptionally-favourable conditions. Average per-kiloWatt installed power costs can run as high as $10 000 and simply due to this, the majority of geothermal energy projects in Europe seek "existing fissure" sites, where only reduced levels of fracking at relatively shallow depths are needed to lever commercial-scale operation. Italy, which has about 850 MW of installed capacity, along with Iceland (575 MW) account for over 85 percent of present European geothermal capacity and heavily exploit "existing fissure" opportunities. European geothermal is however moving ahead relatively fast, with Turkey for example looking to multiply its current 100 MW capacity by 5 or 6 within the next 3 years.

Modern geothermal heat-and-power is a relatively new technology with the first so-called "hot dry deep rock" experiment operated at 3000 metres depth in the 1970s at Los Alamos (NM), using fracking at high pressure to split compact hot rock strata, and this deep geothermal technology has been heavily developed, despite its costs. Among the world leaders, Germany, Japan and Australia have proven this technology which in the case of France, at present, is only used at one semi-experimental site in Alsace.

For reasons including greater average depths for deep dry rock geothermal power extraction, compared with shale gas and oil, hazards posed by this type of drilling tend to be lower, and again apart from costs, geothermal drilling can extend to 6 kilometres and deeper, accessing rapidly increasing amounts of heat. The well-known major risks of shale gas and oil fracking - polluted drinking water and earth tremors - become less challenging with deep geothermal, although the tremor risk can remain.

Above all, the benefits of shale gas and oil, and geothermal energy development are producing energy on the national territory, and reducing the trade gap on energy imports. Deep hot water aquifers, where they are commercially recoverable sufficiently close to major urban areas also enable large-area CHP or combined heat and power, which even France's politically ruined Ecologists can approve - if their place in the sun they owe to Francois Hollande is not swept away as the Hollande presidency falls apart.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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