Schilansky – President, CHNC – France
A group of French companies have joined forces in the newly-created Center for Unconventional Hydrocarbons (CHNC), to change perceptions of the shale energy sector in France, in light of the country’s long-standing ban on hydraulic fracking. The president of the CHNC shares his thoughts on the shale oil & gas debate in France, arguing in favor of more cooperation between the government and the oil and gas industry.
Before addressing the shale oil & gas issue, could you tell us about the specific energy situation in France?
France is experiencing a rather unique situation in the world regarding energy. The French specificity concerns mainly the upstream segment of the oil and gas activity, alongside a classical downstream activity dealing with refineries, pipelines and distribution. Thus, there are few gas and oil resources extraction activities within France, as any substantial conventional resources in oil and gas have been discovered, except small-scale deposits in the south west of France and in the Parisian basin. As of today, France therefore remains almost dependent on oil and gas supplies.
But, at the same time, the country has developed excellent infrastructures, world-class training and research centers and a strong body of services. French companies have a worldwide recognized expertise in the energy sector and they develop their activities along the entire value creation chain internationally where they export their competencies and talents. Over time, France has created an excellent educational system which is symbolized by prestigious and very renown engineering schools. I really believe that this is this coupling of industrial champions with an outstanding engineering educational system which provide the “engine” of the French oil and gas skills, which are applied internationally.
Is this context, why have you decided to create a specific body regarding unconventional energies?
The development of unconventional hydrocarbons production – particularly shale gas and shale oil – is a “game changer” in the energy global market. These new resources will not only represent additional reserves in the world but also potential sources of domestic supplies for highly importing countries, as in the United States.
As the global energy picture is drastically evolving, we realized there is a need to acquire information on these new energy issues and its challenges. The goal of the Centre for Unconventional Hydrocarbons (www.chnc.fr) is focused on acquiring information and documentation: the Centre aims to gather, assess and disseminate factual information on gas and shale oil available internationally in the technical, economic and environmental fields. One of the main challenges regarding unconventional hydrocarbons has to do with a lack of knowledge and understanding.
How do you perceive France’s position on these controversial issues?
For a number of reasons, France has decided to legally ban the technic of hydraulic fracturing.
The debate on this topic has unfortunately become irrational, emotional and taboo. In this context, our mission is to understand the facts from an objective point of view. We now have a better grasp on what these energies represent since the first developments of shale gas in the USA. This was confined in the North-American market. Since the US didn’t export their gas, it did not affect the rest of the world. On the other hand, the price of oil remained steady until very recently, which therefore gave no incentive to look elsewhere. When prices suddenly dropped however, our take on these matters fundamentally changed. All this represented an upheaval of the world energy situation.
How can the CHNC act on a concrete basis to change these faulted perceptions?
We will provide accurate information in order to stimulate a fair debate and we are also asking that the law be appropriately enforced. Regarding hydraulic fracturing, the law stipulates that a commission should be created to evaluate the consequences of such a technic. This commission has never been created.
We have adopted a position of clarity and we welcome a diversity of opinions. What we would like to avoid is quick judgment and subjectivity. Our first statement is that being confronted to a new source of energy is a very rare occurrence. Our second statement is that this new resource can also be found in consuming countries like the US. And this is why it is a real “game changer”.
Which companies are part and supportive of the CHNC initiative?
We work with companies in the sector within the entire value chain, from chemicals to services and equipment, such as Solvay, Arkema, Imerys or Accenture. It took us one year to put the whole project together though we are a very small organization. Our scientific council that analyzes and evaluates technical and environmental matters is an essential pillar of our Center. It comprises nine members, which are experts in their respective fields and who are themselves members of recognized academic bodies such as the French Academy of Sciences, of Agriculture, of Medicine or the National Centre for Research CNRS. The members of this scientific council are independent, as this guarantees the objectivity of their assessments. Our scientific council will analyze on an objective basis the key conditions for hydraulic fracking on the environment, the seismic consequences, the resulting water consumption, the print on soil, fluid management etc. All this data will fortunately be available online.
What do our neighbors think of the matter?
We are in constant contact with our European counterparts. We share information and analyzes. The UK is initiating debates, Denmark as well. Germany is in my opinion progressively leaning towards opening the debate. The European Commission has taken the initiative to create a European and technical network, which the CHNC is part of. I believe such initiative can contribute to a better understanding of such important issues in many European countries.