SENATORS are expected to vote to uphold the ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas in their debate on June 1. Protesters, however, have criticised the way the proposal was amended in the National Assembly.
Socialist and Green MPs voted against the UMP-sponsored proposal saying it was a smokescreen to allow drilling to go ahead while oil and gas companies tried to find another word or phrase to replace “hydraulic fracturing”.
Green MP Yves Cochet of Europe Écologie Les Verts said: “Companies will say 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”.
Ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, however, said afterwards: “Shale gas is finished. “ She said hydraulic fracturing was the only way to extract the gas so “in banning it we have halted the whole business”.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique where a shock wave is set off at the bottom of the well in the shale formation to open up the tight rock and allow the gas to accumulate and be piped out to the surface. Environmental campaigners say the use of millions of litres of high-pressure water with added sand and up to 200 chemicals has allowed contaminants to leach into water supplies.
Speaking as she walked across the limestone pavements in the Lozère, which are being put forward for recognition as a Unesco world heritage site, Ms Kosciusko-Morizet said “that is incompatible with a possible Unesco candidature”.
The minister said the Code Minier [governing mining and mineral exploration rights] had to be reformed as it had not evolved “most notably so that people would be consulted”.
From the view of global climate change, she said there was “little point in starting a new fossil fuel age when we have just come out of the previous one”.
Europe Écologie Euro-MP José Bové was adamant: “The risk is that only the vocabulary will change, not the techniques.”
New Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie has already said it will retain its drilling options while remaining “calm and low profile” until they could return and explain how they could work shale gas prospects while still preserving the environment.
Thousands of protesters marched against shale gas exploration in the run-up to the vote, voicing fears of the damage that, beyond the danger to the water table, the transport of materials and drilling could cause to local communities.
Now, firms wanting to continue using the drilling permits granted last year by former ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo must produce a report with details of their intended recovery techniques. If hydraulic fracturing is used, or no report is produced, the drilling permits will be rescinded.