Fillon U-Turns on French Fracking
The French government has dramatically caved-in to grass-roots protest and offered support for a fast-track parliamentary bill to revoke shale gas drilling concessions, as worry widens about the impact of fracking on underground water aquifers.
Clearly concerns about possible damage to France’s valuable terroir – the concept of special climatic and soil conditions that give its food and wine marketing a vastly profitable global edge — have made their mark in key ministerial departments.
The change of heart in Paris follows a popular campaign in la France profonde – led by José Bové and fellow Euro-MPs from the Green group in the European Parliament – that has overwhelmed local Mayors and Regional Council officials with an unanticipated level of grass-roots support.
The u-turn has not pleased the powerful energy industry which under the umbrella of the Natural Gas for Europe lobby is currently negotiating “the regulatory landscape” for Shale Gas exploration in Europe at a conference in Poland.
In an interview with Le Parisien, the CEO of Total SA, Christophe de Margerie described the campaign against shale gas as “outrageous.”
“How can we make a final decision without even knowing if there is shale gas in the (ground) and if it is workable? It’s really putting the cart before the horse! “he said.
According to the French news agency AFP, Prime Minister François Fillon, heading the ruling UMP coalition, offered government support April 13 for amending legislation tabled by UMP parliamentary leader Christian Jacob, a deputy and mayor of Provins, which will roll-back shale oil exploration authorisations granted earlier.
Prime Minister François Fillon’s u-turn in l’Assemblée Nationale was even more memorable thanks to a ‘mispeaking’ moment captured by TV cameras and broadcast via the parliament channel.
Its back to square one for shale gas says Fillon in this video clip, before slipping in a gaffe possibly designed to ensure his remarks will be remembered longer than he might hope for:
There is cross-party support for the amending legislation which parliament is expected to vote May 10 using a fast-track procedure that ensures its approval by both houses of parliament simultaneously.
The proposed bill would lead to the revocation of drilling permits granted for shale gas exploration in southern France to Total SA, GDF Suez, and Schuepbach Energy and ban shale oil development in the Paris Basin.
François Fillon said the permits granted to the energy companies in March 2010 by former Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, had been agreed “on less than satisfactory terms” .
He made clear in parliament that the aim was to “start over from scratch” and “annul the unsatisfactory permits issued”.
The PM said, “In this debate between the French people and their government we must begin again and cancel those authorisations already granted”.
He added that he would prolong the deadline for the work of the “scientific research task force currently reviewing shale gas exploration and methods to be used.”
He said: “There is no question of sacrificing our environment, but there is also no question of shutting the door on future technological advances offering a pathway to new energy resources”.
The government’s decision has provoked a guarded response from the CEO of GDF Suez, Gérard Mestrallet.
He told the business paper Les Echoes: “France has decided to turn the page on shale gas before even opening it. There are studies that show that in Europe, the countries with the greatest shale gas potential are France and Poland. In our country, we seem to have decided to turn a blind eye. This is rather surprising because it is one thing to set out to explore what lies under the surface (in terms of potential deposits) and quite another to exploit these deposits. It is true that in the U.S. there were some environmentally unscrupulous operators in the field so it is certainly wise to give the issue some further thought. But to conclude from this that we will never be able to develop clean technologies to exploit shale gas is not something that I as a scientist would wish to state. On one hand France has frozen the price of gas and on the other, refuses to produce shale gas. I would draw attention to the fact that if natural gas is cheap in the U.S., it is thanks to unconventional gas. “
Despite the row-back, protestors, who had turned out en masse for anti-shale gas drilling demonstrations in the north east and south west of France over the weekend April16/17 , say they will remain vigilant. The protest movement inspired by Green Euro-MP José Bové, has made it clear that until the fast track amending law is passed and unequivocal steps implemented to block any possible use of controversial “fracking” techniques in France, protest groups plan to keep up the pressure.
Richard Paul-Jones who runs the SchisteHappens website, alongside hundreds of French-language protest blogs and campaign groups united against fracking, cautioned that people “should not be duped into thinking that we have won.”
He claims the oil companies will be quietly beavering away to get the decision reversed. His fears have been underlined on some French-language anti-shale gas sites which draw attention to a report by Senator Jacques Blanc released on April 15th.
This is a preliminary report into the environmental impact of shale gas and oil extraction and backs the search and investigation of such resources, providing that such activities are “compatible with priorities in terms of natural sites preservation.”
The report concludes that for the sake of France’s energy security, it is “legitimate to see if such resources are potentially present in the national and European territories.”
After the announcement that drilling using the controversial US-pioneered fracking method was to be suspensed, researchers at the University of Montpellier’s hydro-science centre said they were reassured. In the event that any shale gas drilling were to occur in the Montpellier region ” all the water reserves close to the drilling area would have been seriously threatened,” said one concerned scientist, Françoise Elbaz.
“There is always a technological risk involved. In going back up, the drill can release toxic gases such as the radio-elements naturally contained in the rocks,” she said.
No fracking has yet taken place in France, but scientists point to the city of Pittsburgh in the US where the use of chemicals in fracking has left city water supplies at a salinity level inappropriate for consumption.
The European Commission, captured by the warmist lobby, has set a goal that requires EU member states to achieve an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The horrendous economic and social cost of this ludicrous target is now surfacing. For example an unpublished report by US management consultancy McKinsey has suggested that shale gas deposits across the EU could be used to meet Europe’s energy needs for the next 30 years, based on current demand.
The McKinsey findings ignore France’s current longstanding commitment to nuclear power which, despite the public confidence setback caused by the Japanese earthquake disaster at Fukushima, could acquire a fresh lease on life if converted to thorium fuel.
Story: Ken Pottinger
Further Reading: If you live in or around Paris you might care to read this detailed piece about Toreador’s discovery of and plans for lifting shale gas from deposits in that region.