FRANCE has become the first country in the world to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, used to mine for shale gas and oil.
Senators last night voted in favour of a ban by 176 votes to 151, with the support coming mostly from members of President Sarkozy's UMP party. The law had already been approved by the National Assembly in May.
The Socialist party voted against the law, saying it did not go far enough. The draft legislation had originally banned shale gas exploration completely, but the government is keen to leave other mining options open.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, uses a high-pressure blast of millions of litres of water, sand and up to 200 chemicals to create a shockwave to break open cracks deep in the earth and force the gas out. These chemicals and the gas have been found to leak into water supplies.
Local politicians and environmentalists have been campaigning against the technique since March 2010 after a number of drilling licences were awarded in the south of France and around Paris.
Ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said these licences "should not have been granted" before further research had been carried out into the effects of fracking.
Protestors are also concerned about the damage that, beyond the danger to the water table, the transport of materials and drilling could cause to local communities.
All firms who currently hold shale gas exploration licences in France will need to produce a report within two months showing that their mining technique is not fracking.
If hydraulic fracturing is used, or no report is produced, the drilling permits will be revoked. The list of companies and their techniques will be made public.
Ecologist senator Jean Desessard said banning fracking meant firms would adopt another method that would be just as damaging to the environment.
The government is concerned that with energy prices rising it could be ignoring possible 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.