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Fears over tricks in shale gas vote

Socialists and ecologists doubt that new text will be enough to stop drilling for controversial fossil fuel under France

AN AMENDMENT to the bill to ban shale gas exploration in France has become a smoke screen to allow drilling, claim Socialist MPs and environmentalists.

Many Socialist Party members fear the proposition from the UMP’s Christian Jacob is little more than a trick to get tacit approval for drilling, while ecologists have denounced the text as it has been changed from the original which gained widespread support.

That original text said exploration licences for shale gas and shale oil would be repealed with a ban on further drilling and exploitation.

The text that is being debated today with a vote tomorrow now gives licensees two months to detail the processes they intend to use and, while hydraulic fracturing will not be permitted, if this is not mentioned in the companies’ submissions then the permits will be approved.

Green MP Yves Cochet of Europe Écologie Les Verts said that was an obvious loophole the “companies will say that they will use techniques other than hydraulic fracturing but, in essence, they will do the same as there is no other way to do it”.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique where a shock wave is set off at the bottom of the well in the tight shale formation two kilometres down to open up the rock and allow the gas to accumulate and be piped to the surface.

However, the technique uses millions of litres of high-pressure water with added sand and up to 200 chemicals to force the gas out. These chemicals and the gas have been found to leach into water supplies.

This week the mairie in Montcuq in the Lot strung a protest banner from the tower over the town saying Gaz de Schiste – Non Merci and environmental protesters including Green Euro-MP José Bové and presidential hopefuls Eva Joly and Nicolas Hulot will be demonstrating outside the National Assembly.

Parti de Gauche MP Martine Billard attacked the new text as “an open road” for big business to start exploration and exploitation. “It’s enough for them to say there will be no pollution for them to become non-polluting.”

President Sarkozy and prime minister François Fillon are said to have backed the amended bill, with Mr Fillon telling UMP MPs that the decision to award the initial permits, by former ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo, had been done without he or Mr Sarkozy knowing anything about it.

The amendments followed a preliminary report which recommended a wide-ranging evaluation of possible shale gas and shale oil deposits in France.

Until the exploration is done there is no guarantee that the gas and oil exists but the government is concerned that with energy prices rising it could be ignoring possible recoverable fossil fuel resources of up to 100 million cubic metres of shale oil in the Paris basin and five billion cubic metres of shale gas in a bed across the south of France.

Once tomorrow’s vote is known the bill will go to the Senat on June 1.


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