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Shale Gas Exploration to be Banned

Friday 15 April 2011

Plans for shale gas and oil exploration in France look like being buried.

Since plans for prospecting of shale gas and oil resources in the South of France and the Paris Basin became public a few weeks ago there has been a general outcry of opposition.

Politicians from all political parties have been falling over themselves to demand a complete ban on any such exploration.

A comfortable majority of 328 deputies from both left and right in the French Parliament have stated that they are opposed to any licences being granted.

Even the former Minister of the Environment, Jean-Louis Borloo, who gave approval to the exploratory ‘gaz de schiste’ licences in the first place, has deposited a draft law that would ban it entirely.

His own proposal followed swiftly on that of the leader of the majority UMP party, Christian Jacob, who has tabled a draft law to that effect in parliament, as has the French Socialist Party.

The current Minister of the Environment, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, has also expressed her own ‘grande réserve’ on shale exploration, and has stated that a law would be introduced making public consultation obligatory before any scheme should be approved. This would probably mean that a public enquiry would need to be held.

The exploratory licences granted by her predecessor were agreed without parliamentary debate and without any public consultation.

These preliminary licences for prospecting (not extracting) for shale gas and oil have now been suspended, pending the results of a report on the environmental impact of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ being presented to the government by the end of May.

During the debate it has also surfaced that several thousand prospecting licences have been granted in the past, although seemingly without any fuss.

In response to the pressure, the government has been obliged to agree to an emergency parliamentary debate on the issue on 10th May, when the proposition of the leader of the UMP will be discussed.

The Prime Minister, François Fillon, has stated that a complete overhaul of the law and technology is required, and that the shale prospecting licences that have been granted should be annuled.

The main concern amongst opponents of shale exploration is the risk of contamination of groundwater by the use of high pressure water injection techniques used to extract the gas.

There is also widespread concern about the impact of the convoy of lorries that will need to travel regularly to and from the sites, carrying water and equipment to undertake the extraction.

The sums already invested by mining companies in research into shale extraction runs into tens of millions of euros, and they are unlikely to sit idly by whilst the government wipes the value of this investment off their balance sheets.

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