Cablegate: France: Potential for Shale Gas Development

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E.O. 12958: N/A


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1. (SBU) Summary: France has no identified shale gas bearing
formations. Industry took an interest in the sector in 2007, but
although the GOF plans to permit exploration activity for shale gas
areas in Southeastern France in 2010 (making production possible
around 2015), technical, legal and political challenges are
significant. Shale gas is not a strategic energy priority for
France, given a diversified set of natural gas/LNG suppliers and a
large amount of nuclear generated electricity. End Summary.

2. (SBU) EconOff met recently with GOF officials and industry
representatives in the energy sector who gave an overview of current
policies, activities, and future challenges regarding shale gas
development in France.

Energy Mix: No Urgency for Shale Gas

3. (U) Our contacts suggest no immediate push to develop France's
shale gas market. Imported gas accounts for 15 percent of France's
energy consumption. (The small amount of French commercial gas
production - 1.1 billion cubic meters per year - will end in 2013.)
The GOF aims at keeping a diversified set of suppliers: Norway (33
percent), The Netherlands (18 percent), Algeria (17 percent) and
Russia (15 percent) including substantial liquefied natural gas
imports. Gas in France is used for heating and industry with a
small percentage for electricity production (4 percent of
electricity comes from gas compared to the EU average of 7 percent).
The country's 58 nuclear power plants generate nearly 80 percent of
the country's electricity. Potential remains for expanding gas
utilization in the power/transportation sectors given planned
production for electric vehicles.

No Shale Gas-Bearing Formations

4. (U) France has no identified shale gas bearing formations so
far. Shale gas experimental labs do not exist, nor is there record
of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing activities, according
to sources at the Ministry of Sustainable Development (MEEDDM). The
GOF Investment Plan for Gas Development 2009-2020 makes no mention
of shale gas related infrastructure projects. Industry's interest
in shale gas development in France is recent (since 2007).

Potential in the Southeast Basin

5. (U) There is potential for shale gas development in Southeastern
France, energy experts contend. The specific area spans roughly 450
miles, extending from the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border in
the north, down through the Alps to the Languedoc and Provence
basins bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The area is in one of the
three large sedimentary basins in France, called the "Southeast
Basin" or "mega-basin," which is known for its structural

6. (SBU) Energy companies are currently applying for non-exclusive
exploration permits for the Southeast Basin to research shale gas
formations. European and American firms operate alone or form joint
ventures with French companies. The largest players are Lundin
(Swedish), Vermilion Rep SAS (Canadian), Schuepbach Energy LLC
(Swiss), Toreador Energy (U.S.) and Total Exploration and
Production, in partnership with Devon Energy (U.S.). Other
applicants include Mouvoil SA, Bridgeoil, Diamoco Energy, Egdon
Resources Ltc, Eagle Energy Ltd, YCI Resources Ltd, and Cevennes
Petroleum Development Ltd. MEEDDM's Directorate on Energy and
Climate, Bureau of Exploration and Production of Hydrocarbons (BEPH)
publishes monthly updates and company information on permit
applications .

Challenges for Gas-Shale Development

7. (SBU) Embassy contacts raised several challenges for shale-gas

-- Geological make-up. France has one of the highest levels of CO2
gas deposits in the world. CO2 fields within the Southeast
sedimentary basin lie along fault systems (fissures in the rock).
Some CO2 fields are trapped by an overlying impermeable cap rock,
others have CO2 emissions cropping out at the surface or leak into
the ground water and emerge in carbonated springs. Shale gas expert
Francois Lorant stressed the unknown risks for hitting new CO2
deposits when drilling for shale gas exploration, and the potential
hazard on the local environment.

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-- Social acceptability. Communities fear the impact of intense
drilling, well density, and high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Our
contacts underscore the absence of a thorough risk assessment on
possible environmental consequences (wildlife, traffic, noise, urban

-- Water and chemicals. Large volumes of water are required to
fracture the rocks. Regional authorities want evidence that shale
gas development will not harm the environment and be an appropriate
use of limited natural resources. Communities, water regulatory
agencies, energy experts, and industry leaders raise the risk of
groundwater contamination by the fracture fluid which contains
chemical additives. The consensus is that further research is

-- Population density. The Southeast Basin covers several important
urban and sports centers, wine and sparkling mineral water
businesses (Perrier, Badoit), quaint villages and other scenic and
tourist zones. The demographics will make it difficult to access
shale gas formations given the need for wide-spread drilling
(approximately six wells every kilometer/four per mile), French
experts estimate.

-- Drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies. The GOF and
French industry do not have expertise in drilling and new fracturing
technologies required for developing shale gas resources.

-- Drilling Rigs. French companies build and export rigs
internationally. IFP Director Appert told us these companies do not
have the capacity to cover domestic demand for shale gas production.
French rig suppliers would likely call on Spanish and German rig
imports. All things being equal, MEEDDM officials anticipate a
shortage of rigs in France in the next three to five years if shale
gas production moves forward.

-- Mining rights. There is no private ownership of mineral rights
in France. A gas field does not belong to the land owner, and only
the state (MEEDDM) may grant exploration and production rights for
such resources.

-- Geological data. France lacks a systemic assessment of shale gas
resources and data on the source rock from which shale gas
originates. Seismic data and well site reports are considered
"interpreted data" and remain confidential indefinitely and the
property of the companies. Other seismic data ("raw data") is
public after a ten-year confidentiality period. Some seismic
sections (basin imagery) can be viewed (after ten years) on a case
by case basis. BEPH also maintains non-confidential data which is
immediately accessible. Information on existing gas wells in the
Southeastern basin may be useful for shale gas exploration. The
material includes well reports, logs, cuttings/samples, test
records, and surveys conducted before 1958 when the BEPH was
created. BEPH's website also posts national indicators on mining
acreage in France, geophysical and drilling activity, oil/gas
production levels and reserves. Institut francais du petrole
publishes regional studies on the prospects of France's sedimentary

Regulatory Environment

8. (U) The French Mining Code is the main legislative instrument
for regulating gas exploration, development, and production
activities. Potential investors in shale gas development follow the
same three-stage process as those for conventional gas development:
research permit, exploration activity, and production. Each phase
requires local and regional authorizations and a national permit.
The respective local and regional authorities are the Prefect and
the Regional Director for Industry, Research and the Environment
(DRIRE). MEEDDM is the national level authority.

9. (U) MEEDDM accepts research permit applications at any time, if
the area is unencumbered by existing exploration permits or
concessions. France's General Council of Mines (GCM) provides a
technical opinion on each application. The first application
received for a given area sets off the competition process.
European companies (see para. 12) may file a competing application
within 90 days after the publication of the initial application in
the French Official Journal and European Official Journal. MEEDDM
is now assessing competing proposals submitted in 2007. Awards are
expected in 2010. BEPH/MEEDDM can assist companies with the
research permit application.

10. (U) In the second phase, MEEDDM grants a company(ies) exclusive
mining rights for an initial five years to explore the hydrocarbons
within the confines of the research permit. Holders of the
exclusive research permit do not have the right to produce, but it
is a prerequisite to do so. The exploration period can be extended
twice for a period of five years each. Extensions require

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consultations with local authorities and a favorable GCM opinion.
This generally takes one year. After the first extension, the
permit area is reduced by fifty percent, and by an additional
twenty-five percent at the second renewal. In an effort to cut
costs (seismic surveys, drilling, etc.), permit holders may grant an
interest in the area to another company via a partnership
arrangement (farm-in).

11. (U) Investors should be prepared for a lengthy consultation
period to obtain departmental and local authorizations. The DRIRE
conducts environmental impact studies and establishes a dialogue
with the community stakeholders. It studies the company's
environmental and financial management practices in light of
specific local factors: geology, hydrology, climate, demographics,
local economy, living conditions, and the overall environmental
footprint. The local prefect authorizes and will oversee the entire
realm of operations: drilling, production, operations, management,
waste disposal, departure plans, and well plugging.

12. (U) The production phase could begin as early as 2015 for shale
gas research permits granted in 2010. The license holder must be a
company governed by French or EU law. (Non-EU companies can
establish a French/EU subsidiary or company, or enter into a JV.)
If a commercially-viable discovery is made, only permit holders (not
partners) have an automatic and exclusive right to obtain a
concession. The company must obtain a concession in the event of a
commercially-viable discovery. Concession rights are generally
granted for 25 to 50 years, and renewable several times for 25 years
each. (Note: a partner can become a permit holder through a
procedure called "mutation." A mutation requires a ministerial
order -- no public enquiry, no local administrative consultation,
except for a report by the DRIRE--, after consultation with the GCM.
End note.)

Taxes and Fees

13. (U) Production license holders must pay the GOF a royalty based
on production levels. For a new discovery, the rate is five percent
for discoveries over 300 million cubic meters and is deducted from
the business tax. There are also local mining taxes: 65.1 euros
(USD 91) to the municipal authority for every 100,000 cubic meters
of gas produced; 330.3 euros (USD 457) per 100,000 cubic meters for
the administrative department. Surface rental fees do not apply,
and wells recently brought on-stream are taxed at reduced rates.

French Views on Other Shale Gas Markets

14. (U) Jean-Marie Chevallier, of Cambridge Energy Research
Associates, said most of the recent interest in shale gas
development is by American companies and that market potential is
strongest in the U.S., however, the "situation is not clear" in
Europe. French energy experts agree there are likely opportunities
for shale gas development in Poland, Hungary, and Germany. Ukraine
is emerging as the largest potential shale gas market that could
"drastically change the energy situation", MEEDDM Energy Advisor
Richard Lavergne told us. It could be a major innovation that will
change the European gas market by lowering prices, notably LNG.
More LNG in Europe could lead to lower spot gas prices, which in
turn could compete with nuclear electricity, he said. As for
industry, GDF-Suez and Total SA are tight-lipped about their
long-term international strategy in shale gas. CEO de Margerie told
the press that Total's recent USD 2.25 billion investment in
Chesapeake Energy's Barnett Shale project is a chance to gain
experience in the sector before venturing in the French market and
beyond. Total executives told us that for now, middle-sized
companies seem suited for shale gas projects, providing expertise in
local environmental conditions and specialized drilling techniques.


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