Total appeals shale gas ban

Company says law does not justify withdrawal of its drilling permits as ecology minister meets oil bosses

18 January 2012

OIL giant Total has lodged an appeal against the withdrawal of its permit to drill exploratory wells for shale gas in the south of France.

The government withdrew drilling permissions in October after widescale summer protests about the environmental impact of the only known technique for exploiting shale gas, hydraulic fracturing.

Total Gas Shale Europe managing director Bruno Courme said at a press conference in Paris that Total "respects the law" however, he added, "our position is that the law does not justify the withdrawal of our permits".

He was speaking after a meeting of oil company heads and Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet on shale gas entitled "The French ban: how to get out?".

UMP MP François-Michel Gonnot sparked fears among environmentalists that the government was preparing to overturn the ban as he said: "I do not see why the debate cannot continue just because we voted a law based on circumstance. It's not a taboo subject."

Hundreds of thousands of people had campaigned against shale gas exploration and the use of hydraulic fracturing last summer and the government introduced an outright ban despite permits already having been issued. Oil firms were told to submit new applications that did not propose the use of now-banned technique.

Total's application to drill the Montélimar prospect (which covers 4,327sq.km from Montélimar to Montpellier) said specifically that it would not use hydraulic fracturing but the government criticised it for not being "sufficiently explicit" in explaining alternative techniques.

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique where shale gas tightly bonded in deep rock structures is freed using underground explosions to fracture the rock.

Known as "fracking", the technique has been criticised as millions of litres of chemical-laden water is used to force the gas up to the surface and there are fears this will contaminate aquifers and other underground water sources.

Environmental protesters also fear the impact of widescale drilling rigs and access roads being set up across the Ardèche, Drôme and Gard departments.

Shale gas has not yet been confirmed in the French sites but protesters say that if Total's exploratory wells do strike gaz de schiste there will be immense pressure on the government to authorise "fracking" no matter the feared consequences.

Photo: Coprid - Fotolia.com

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