Scientists advise shale gas testing

Drilling is banned in France at present

Top French science body the Académie des Sciences says shale gas research is a calculated risk we must take

PRESTIGIOUS French science body the Académie des Sciences has said it favours pursuing research into shale gas extraction.

The academy states that France should carry out studies into extraction methods which could minimise environmental risks and allow exploratory drilling under strict conditions.

France is thought to have large deposits of shale oil and gas, which could potentially help reduce people’s fuel bills. But the only known technique for exploiting it – “fracking” – is believed to pose environmental risks, notably pollution of groundwater.

The Sarkozy government passed a law banning it and earlier this year Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault rejected calls for a rethink, saying there is no such thing as “ecological” exploitation of shale gas.

However a representative of the academy, physicist Sébastien Candel, told Les Echos: “We think it’s important to give our opinion as impartial scientists.”

He said exploiting shale gas would be desirable, because it would help reduce the use of other fossil fuels. “It’s better to use gas than coal; it allows greenhouse gases to be halved.”

He said the academy recommends starting a research programme as soon as possible and that an independent authority be set up to oversee it.

“We need to do exploratory drilling, but in good conditions and under supervision, taking all necessary precautions.

“We have to evaluate the risks to know if we can master them. Nothing in the modern world is zero risk. An aeroplane motor, for example, is very complicated, but taking a plane is a calculated risk.”

The Académie des Sciences is part of the Institut de France, which also includes the Académie Française.

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