PLANS to drill for shale gas could get the green light after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the debate about exploitation "was not settled" but new ways of getting the gas out of the rock had still to be found.
Speaking on BFMTV he said the banned hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technique - the only known way to extract the gas (called gaz de schiste) from the rock - had "devastating effects" on the environment and the countryside but if another method was found they would have to look at it.
The government said in July that there would be no rethink on hydraulic fracturing but Ayrault said yesterday it was hosting an environmental conference on renewable energy sources on September 14-15 and "everything will be put on the table".
He added: "We need to put the different solutions that can exist on the table and decide on whether we can use them."
However, his statements caused some alarm for partners in the green party Europe Ecologie-Les Verts with national secretary Pascal Durand saying oil companies had talked about exploiting any shale gas resources without using hydraulic fracturing, but it was a "bare-faced lie".
He added: "Such industrial giants, sometimes, with only pure profit as their motive, are ready to lie to be able to continue."
Ecology Minister Delphine Batho said the problems with hydraulic fracturation were well known and the debate could be reopened "if new techniques existed".
President Hollande has already met shale gas opponents, including the Collective Entrecasteaux group from the Var, and said he “remains open to the idea if they come up with a ‘safe and clean’ technique".
Hydraulic fracturing was banned under the Sarkozy government after widespread protests.