The French National Assembly voted in favour of a ban on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” Wednesday, a controversial gas extraction method that has emerged as a key political issue ahead of the presidential election.
As lawmakers gathered to launch the debate on Tuesday, several hundred people rallied outside the parliament building to protest against the environmentally hazardous practice.
Those in the crowd included Green presidential hopefuls Eva Joly and Nicolas Hulot, as well as Danielle Mitterand, the widow of former Socialist President François Mitterand, who chose to spend the anniversary of her husband’s 1981 landmark victory – still celebrated by the French left – campaigning against fracking.
The bill was drafted by Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party in response to a public outcry over potential fracking operations. Mass protests broke out earlier in the year when it was discovered that the government had quietly handed energy giants exploration permits for work in some of France’s most scenic regions. They were initially overlooked. But after suffering a crushing defeat at regional elections across the country in March, the UMP changed tack. On 13 April a temporary freeze on shale gas exploration was announced
, just days before some of the companies were set to begin work.
Opposition not convinced
The bill, which now needs to be approved by the Senate before it comes into force, will revoke the permits of companies which admit to fracking. It does not outlaw the extraction of shale gas itself.
Opposition campaigners such as Socialist MP Jean-Marc Ayrault argued that the proposed law leaves too much room for manoeuvre. He stated Tuesday before the vote that the “ambiguity” of the text “could allow some permits to remain in place until their contest was considerably weakened”, therefore leaving the door open for fracking in the future.
Danielle Mitterand supported calls for a total ban on the use of shale gas, telling reporters Tuesday that “we have to eradicate the use of shale gas, we must leave our earth alone”.
Sarkozyists shift blame
The amount of shale gas available in France is still unknown, but a report by the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security reported last week that Europe as a whole could meet its energy demands for some 60 years if it were to use its unconventional gas resources, under which shale gas falls. Poland, which is eager to rid itself of any dependence on Russian energy sources, is keen to make that a reality.
After gladly handing out permits to energy companies last year, supporters of President Sarkozy within the ruling UMP party scrambled to distance themselves from the practice.
Conveniently for them, the former environment minister who granted the permits, Jean-Louis Borloo, has emerged as a potential rival to Sarkozy in the election, making him the perfect scapegoat.