French Woodstock Invoked in Shale Gas Fight

Public anger is growing as French and other oil majors make strenuous efforts to overturn a recent government repeal of shale gas prospecting licenses covering Villeneuve de Berg, Nant and Montelimar regions – 3 of 64 areas covered by permits.

Larzac – an 11 year struggle that pitched sheep farmers against the military.

(Read more online here)
Le Monde
reported December 13 that Total, the French oil company, had filed a judicial appeal with the Paris Administrative Court demanding the cancellation of the government’s earlier revocation of its Montelimar permit in the Drome.

The Var Collective Against Schiste Gas which opposes the Permis de Brignoles in the départements of Var and Alpes de Haute Provence on the Mediterranean, is stirring up support for its ongoing campaign with comparisons to the 11-year national struggle by Larzac sheep farmers who in 1971 opposed efforts to annex their land for a military training camp.

This epic protest, which mobilised support groups across France and ended with a victory for the farmers, has now been immortalised in a film by directors Christian Rouaud and Clémence Latour, released in November last year. A screening of the film is to be held at Draguignan in south-east France on January 20.

See the trailer:

The local group “Shale Gas 83” says French Euro MEP José Bové — one of the 1971 leaders of the sheep farmers campaign and a major mover in the fight against gas de schiste — will outline the current position in the anti-shale gas protests before the screening. The film was an entry in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The history of the struggle is summarised in this November 2011 review in Le Monde of Tous au Larzac which makes a neat link between the first major post-May 1968 nationwide struggle against political power and the current grassroots opposition to shale gas permits, a battle which is not yet over.

Larzac endured for eleven years and only ended with the election of François Mitterrand in 1981 when the extension project was finally quashed.

Le Monde says the film portrays what happened when the French defence ministry announced it intended to extend the Larzac military camp, initially constructed in 1902 on an 3000 ha site near Millau in the Averyron. The ministry said it would expropriate farming land to increase the camp to 17 000 ha and in turn encroach on 12 neighbouring municipalities. The project soon raised  an outcry by local farmers and saw protests in Paris, arrests, pitched battles, occupations of the site, guerrilla skirmishes with activists of all stripes and a real movement of national sympathy across France as the cause caught the popular imagination and Larzac Support Committees were set up throughout France.

As Le Monde reports “After the extension project was announced in 1972 convoys of tractors and sheep camped out under the Eiffel Tower, a huge barn was built on one of the farms scheduled for expropriation. Farmers grouped together to acquire land coveted by the military. A farm acquired by the army in 1974 was immediately peacefully occupied by farmers who dislodged the soldiers. In 1976, a commando of farmers organized a raid to steal the plans for expropriation from the military camp– they were imprisoned. In 1978 a march was organized on Paris and attracted 80 000 people … Larzac is today being evoked for the generation aged under 30 with no memory of the protest. The limestone plateau dating from the Jurassic era, in the Aveyron and including the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park was under threat then (as it is now but this time by schiste permits)…”

English: Dr Charles Tannock MEP

Dr Charles Tannock MEP – Image via Wikipedia

Meanwhile in the Lot region where the Cahors permit threatens to turn an important tourist and farming area into a nightmare, anti shale groups have uncovered evidence of ‘dubious dealings’.

According to an email from an anti Schiste gas group, an investigation by the London Sunday Times into the firms that hold rights in the Cahors permit area has turned up a web of interests involving a British MEP who has allegedly not fully declared his financial interests in the European Parliament’s register of members interests.

He is Dr Charles Tannock who represents a UK constituency in the European parliament. The MEP denies any wrongdoing.

The MEP's response to the concerns raised, as reported by the London Sunday Times

The Sunday Times says Charles Tannock: “continues to promote the extraction of shale gas and oil as an ‘exciting’ alternative energy source …”

The Schiste Happens Team, one of several that continues to drive the campaign against the licensing and operation of exploration wells for schiste gas in areas of France that are critical tourism and agricultural centres has alerted its supporters to what it calls” the underhand dealings of the Cahors gaz de schiste licence holder, the Isle of Man registered company, 3 Legs Resources”.

Read the full Sunday Times Insight piece here in pdf at this link.

France has revoked three of 64 permits granted to major energy companies to use hugely controversial ‘fracking’ methods for shale gas exploration in sensitive farming, wine and tourism areas.

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 seen local Mayors and Regional Council officials lend their support to a significant grass-roots movement.

The residents opposing shale gas drilling have understandable concerns over key resources such as water and wine they fear are at risk from shale gas drilling methods known as fracking.

See an emotive report by a British lawyer Michael Mansfield QC here.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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