France this week became the first country in the world to ban hyrdaulic fracturing for shale gas. Senators voted on June 30 by 176 to 151 in favour of the ban, which had already been approved by the French Parliament in May.
The ban nevertheless leaves the door open to several firms which had already been granted shale gas exploration licenses. If they are able to prove within two months that their mining technique is not fracking, they can go ahead. Otherwise, the permits will be revoked. Affected companies are:
Toreador Energy France (whose share price has fallen 70% from its highs since the ban), Schuepbach Energy LLC, Total EDF and Devon. Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has confirmed that France could face legal action over the ban.
Socialists voted against the text because they felt it was too vague: it bans fracking, but not exploration for shale gas and oil using other techniques.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, uses a high-pressure blast of millions of litres of water, sand and hundreds of 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.
Former Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, under whose watch the permits were granted, admitted in a television interview in April this year that he had shown “a lack of vigilance” on the issue.
Anyone who hasn’t seen Josh Fox’s documentary on shale gas fracking in the US, Gasland, should watch it here. It exposes the chronic health problems, contamination of air, water wells and surface water suffered by communities in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah during the last decade’s gas fracking boom. The most spectacular sequences involve residents setting their tap water on fire with a match.