Gaz de Schiste – Senate Bans Fracking But….

While the French Senate July 9 voted to ban shale gas operations using hydraulic fracturing it left the door open to oil and gas majors offering other ways to extract shale gas, virtually ensuring ongoing uproar in the country.

Despite a Senate vote against fracking, fear still runs strong

Those fiercely opposed to any kind of shale gas dig described the outcome as “wholly unsatisfactory” reiterating a litany of fears about the possible impact on underground water tables, terroir and tourism.

Heading the campaign to block the drilling is Green MEP José Bové, the man who famously led a strike force to demolish a McDonald’s restaurant near the Millau bridge in south-eastern France. His success to date in mobilising a groundswell of opposition across the country has clearly shaken the shale gas industry.

So much so that, ahead of a hastily convened parliamentary hearing into shale gas drilling, Gerard Medaisko, a geologist and founding member of the petroleum industry ginger group L’Amicale des Foreurs et des Métiers du Pétrole , denounced the Euro-deputy as: “a professional Agitpropeur “.

The senators approved a (UMP) government sponsored bill by 167 votes to 152 but declined to revoke exploration and exploitation permits secretly granted by a former cabinet minister, on the grounds that the court litigation sure to follow would be hugely expensive. The vote July 9 was described in one headline as a ‘Government Greenwash’ and was roundly condemned by activists such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Climate Action Network France.

In setting out its opposition to shale France Nature Environnement says: “Hazardous to health, the environment, and the climate, non-conventional hydrocarbons have become the new Eldorado for oil companies who have in recent years been granted research permits to tap French soil.” FNE federates the views of some 3000 associations involved in nature and environmental protection in France.

The Senate vote was a deception to opposition politicians. Jean Desessard, a Socialist senator from Paris said the original bill tabled in the National Assembly had included a clause to revoke all drilling permits granted for shale. But he said that after the house debate members had opted to give permit holders two months to make public the drilling technology they planned to use. The amended bill now approved by Senate proposes that a permit would only be revoked if a company resorted to hydraulic fracturing, or if it failed to state publically what method they would employ. However Senator Desessard said what we have now approved is “.. a prohibition of a single technique that leaves it up to industry to find another, perhaps equally as devastating (that will allow them to continue with shale gas operations).”

David Naulin writing on the cdurable website noted the guarded remarks of Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in justifying the amendments: “There is (she said) a simple truth that is hard to escape: the government has taken measures to end the exploitation of shale gas … The purpose of this bill is to ensure that no exploration and exploitation of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing — the only known technique, will occur” . As to revoking permits already granted in secret in 2010 by then Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, she said: “ this is not possible because of the considerable financial implications of repealing a formal administrative authorisation”.

According to the minister Section 2 of the bill provides precise safeguards “limiting financial risk” by requiring the firms involved “to come out of the woodwork” and make their extraction plans clear in the obligatory statements. “We would also like to withdraw the (granted) licenses, but in a non-contentious way”, she said.

In reaching their latest vote the governing coalition’s majority in the house largely followed recommendations set out by the centrist Senator Claude Biwer (whose opponents in the media portray him as “a sales rep for (the French oil company) Total in the Senate.” The Senator’s position, which appears to have held sway, is a compromise designed not to shut the door permanently on the search for shale gas. “We think under our feet we have several decades worth of gas or oil consumption reserves and I think we need to explore these, look at them, and then have a debate to listen to the proposals the industry can offer. Of course the industry is keen to exploit the resources, that is what they are here for. That is their job. But we are not obliged to follow them, at least not right away …” he reportedly told the house.

UMP Senator Jean-Pierre Fourcade speaking after the vote said: “We want to stop any risk, we are confident that there will be no future exploration using hydraulic fracturing. This text also means we can avoid the considerable financial cost to the state of litigation likely to follow any retroactive revocation of permits which in their content have not differentiated between licenses to search for shale gas or normal oil deposits”.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet on 10 jun 2006.

Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has sought to placate opposition anger over fracking. Image -Wikipedia

A majority of senators also called on the UMP to convene a committee of specialists, economists and geologists to examine shale gas research that has already occurred in parts of the country for which exploration permits were granted after March 2010.

Government is awaiting a report commissioned to establish the environmental and sustainable development impacts on one hand, and the industrial, energy and other technology inputs on the other, of the whole shale gas issue. Once this report has been received, the law as now adopted by Senate is expected to be promulgated in September 2011.

The amended version of the loi gaz de schiste as adopted by the Senate can be found here (in French).

Footnote: The UK’s Financial Times newspaper claims opposition to shale gas in France is being driven by the nuclear energy lobby — an interesting take on the issue,  should there be any truth in it!

Story: Ken Pottinger

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3 Responses to Gaz de Schiste – Senate Bans Fracking But….

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