January 11, 2013 / 7:45 PM / 5 years ago

French utility GDF Suez says keen to export U.S. shale gas

* French utility giant hopes to export U.S. shale gas

* Says French fracking ban not tenable in long run

PARIS, Jan 11 (Reuters) - GDF Suez, Europe’s biggest utility, is keen to export American shale gas and hopes the Obama administration will soon deliver licenses to export the gas, GDF Suez chief executive Gerard Mestrallet said on Friday.

The French group has an agreement with Sempra Energy to develop a gas liquefaction plant in Hackberry, Louisiana. Mestrallet said that energy-intensive industries are lobbying to block export of the abundant gas, but that energy groups like GDF Suez are keen to export it.

“At the moment, not a cubic metre of gas is leaving the U.S.,” Mestrallet told reporters.

GDF Suez hopes that the Louisiana plant, which is expected to start operations in 2016, will allow it to liquefy shale gas and ship it to Asia via the Panama canal.

Mestrallet said the abundance of shale gas in the United States was hurting the competitiveness of European companies and that energy-intensive industries were increasingly delocalizing to the United States.

He also said that France’s ban on hydraulic fracking was untenable in the long term.

France possibly has the biggest shale gas reserves in Europe, but it has a ban on fracking and withdrew several exploration permits this year.

“It is not because some consider that today it is not possible to extract shale gas without damaging the environment, that it will always be thus. Technology will improve, and then we need to think again,” he said.

Mestrallet said it is the government’s responsibility to boost economic growth as well as to protect the environment.

“The state will have to decide when the technology has improved sufficiently. But let us not close the door to progress,” he said.

Mestrallet also called for a review of French mining law, under which landowners have no ownership of any underground resources, and said that it would be only logical that landowners would receive at least a certain percentage of the income from the extraction of any underground resources.

“If you’d own a beautiful property in a lovely area, the worst that could happen to you would be the discovery of oil or other resources. You’d get nothing but the trouble,” he said.

Mestrallet said that a new system of automatic indexation of consumer gas prices in France will be more in line with GDF Suez’s effective operating costs.

“From 2013 onwards, we can start with a price level that corresponds to GDF Suez’s real costs,” Mestrallet said.

GDF Suez and other suppliers have repeatedly challenged French caps on gas tariff increases in court.

Mestrallet also said GDF Suez still expects to meet its targets for 2012 recurring group net profit of between 3.7 billion and 4.2 billion euros.

GDF Suez’s full-year 2012 earnings will be released on February 28.

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