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Video: UK shale gas towns await French oil giant Total

Video by Matthew WARREN , Alix BAYLE , Yong CHIM

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2014-02-05

Residents of several English towns are divided over planned shale gas exploration. French company Total is among the investors interested in extracting the resource through fracking – a controversial technique banned in France.

As French President François Hollande visits British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss diplomatic and military issues near Oxford this Friday, people in Lincolnshire, 230km to the north, are dealing with another aspect of relations between the two countries.

This is where the Paris-based oil and gas multinational Total obtained new concessions on January 13 to explore for shale gas, a type of natural gas trapped in deep rock formations.

“This area, just around Gainsborough, is where the Total investments are taking place. It’s 30 million pounds,” Lincolnshire County Executive Councilor Colin Davie told FRANCE 24. “Economically, it’ll be a huge impact for the national economy and locally, it will create jobs, quite clearly.”

Some Gainsborough residents welcome shale gas exploration but others fear it. “I'm a bit fifty-fifty on it. I heard that it’s really bad for the environment but on the other hand, I’ve heard it’s really good for the place you live,” a local woman told FRANCE 24.

Further west, a group of Lancashire politicians have expressed their concerns in a letter to Mr Cameron. While they do not oppose shale gas exploration in principle, local officials are asking for more than the 1% the revenues they have so far been offered.

'The Saudi Arabia of the UK'

“I believe we could be the Saudi Arabia of the UK," said Gordon Birtwistle, an MP for Burnley, another Northern English town hoping to cash in on shale gas. “The people of Burnley should get a fair share of the revenues of this bonanza, and I believe that the 1 per cent offer is not enough and we should have a figure somewhere between 1 and 10 per cent."

The fracking technique  is fiercely controversial. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water, sand and other materials under high pressure into a well to fracture rock. This opens up fissures that help oil and natural gas flow out more freely. The process generates wastewater that its critics claim poses an unacceptable risk of pollution, and even a trigger for earthquakes. 

“I don't understand how we can shake the rocks underneath the ground and expect the ground not to do something back to us. It’s very, very dangerous and I’m very scared,” said protester Roger Thompson at an anti-fracking protest in Northern England.

But advocates claim fracking is a safe, economical source of clean energy.

The French authorities have banned fracking until further notice on environmental grounds, but the Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported on Wednesday that an unpublished government-commissioned report recommends alternative techniques.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Total's chief executive Christophe de Margerie said he was still hoping to convert the French authorities to shale oil and gas extraction.

“This debate is normal: that’s new – especially for France, which is not used to having oil or gas production,” he said. “I hope that at the end, people in France will realise, like others, that it can be done in a proper way that respects the environment.”

Margerie argued that global shale exploration could push gas reserves beyond 100 years from now and increase known oil resources “by 25 percent, maybe more”.

Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total

Date created : 2014-01-31

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