Political situation

13th July 2011: After a huge mobilisation across the country, the French Parliament votes a legislation banning the use of hydraulic fracturing

This legislation, as confirmed by 21st March 2012 decree, also requests the creation of a “National commission in charge of the orientation, follow-up and assessment of the exploration and exploitation techniques for oil and gas fossil fuels”. The 3 permits cancelled are situated in a region where the mobilisation is the strongest.

14-15 September: The government organised an environmental conference -> In his introduction, the French President, François Hollande, declared that he asked to his Ministry of Ecology, Energy and sustainable development to officially reject 7 licences’ permits: “About the exploration and exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, here is what will be my course of action all along my mandate”, said Hollande. “Given what we currently know, no one can say that shale oil and gas extracted with the hydraulic fracturing technique, the only known technique at the moment, are free of serious risks for health and environment”.

However, Hollande acts like Sarkozy as these concerned permits were targeting areas where the resistance is the strongest.

5th October 2012: The Sénat chair nominated Michel Teston, sénateur from Ardèche, to represent the Sénat within the National Commission. However, Delphine Batho, new Ministry of ecology, energy and sustainable development, announced that same day that she wasn’t intending to create that national commission. In others words, the creation of such commission is not in the government’s agenda for the moment.

The review of the mining code is a priority in the government’s agenda. Delphine Batho is supposed to present a new text before the end of 2012 and will be submitted to the French Parliament beginning of 2013. A procedure involving a consultation with the civil society will be implemented, including a set of meetings before the end of November.

All these facts show that the highest public authorities are under pressure. On one hand, the collectifs and local authorities are still mobilised and raising awareness actions are multiplying, notably in Languedoc Roussillon, where a research permit granted to the Swedish company LUNDIN is seen as very suspicious. On the other hand, the oil and gas companies impose an aggressive lobbying, including declarations from Trade Unions leaders, which are often used and shared by the main media.

The shale oil and gas file has a direct impact of relations between several political groups, especially on the left wing side. The governmental coalition of socialists and greens plays a difficult double game with, on one hand, the officials in the government who refuse to take a clear decision and take a case-by-case approach to deal with the licences’ applications, and on the other hand, the local authorities whose mandate will end in 2014.

Shale gas activities

  • 64 research licences were operating before the 13 July 2011 Law forbidding the use of the hydraulic fracturing technique.
  • 11th October 2011: As an application of the law, 3 permits are cancelled – Villeneuve de Berg, Montélimar – owned by SCHUPBACH, and Nant, owned by TOTAL.
  • 61 research permits are then still valid but cannot use the fracking extraction technique
  • End of August 2012: 92 licences’ applications were under review, 72 were competing with each other
  • 14 September 2012: 7 of these applications are rejected by the administration.

Difficult to have a clear overview of the number of granted licences and under review applications. The administration regularly publishes documents, including a list of permits and licences. The French law obliges the administration to communicate the documents received from companies. The structure and organisation of the administration is particularly complex and inconsistent. Therefore the sources are various and data can differ depending on the source. On the website of each respective administration, it happens that documents disappear for no reason.

The access to document procedure is not always respected. Files are not always complete, notably because of the copyrights and some gaps from the administration.

For all these reasons, we cannot present a completely accurate analysis. We know that at least 56 applications are for unconventional resources. Applications are competing with each other on similar areas. Amongst the 7 applications which are about to be rejected, 3 are in areas close to or overlapping the licences that were cancelled in October 2011.

Level of mobilisation

Almost 200 groups of citizens (called ‘collectifs’) are active, both in villages and in bigger cities, both in areas where permits have been granted and in surrounding areas. Some collectifs are organised in local coordination: in the Provence-Côte d’Azur region (Var and Bouche du Rhône), in Ardèche, in Gard, in the Languedoc Roussillon region and in the Parisian region.

The collectifs gather every 6 or 8 weeks as part of a national coordination, with working groups dealing with communication, scientific, legal and international issues. Another group called VIA (Vigilance-Information-Action) is organising locally and nationally the survey and the grassroots resistance.

All the volunteers taking part to the mobilisation constitute a pool of expertise offered to the rest of the groups and to the organisations and NGOs that support them.

Mobilisation of local authorities is also important: They have legal powers to stop exploration or exploitation activities. The national administration and the licence owners can challenge decisions taken by local authorities and take them to an administrative court. Cases are current ongoing and some local mayors are currently threatened by companies.

In September 2012, some Préfets (representing the state at the regional level) granted some authorisations of drilling and research in Île de France (Parisian region) and in South of France (close to Alès, Gard and Ardèche). The Préfets gathered mayors of the towns concerned by these authorisations. These latters confirmed they would remain opposed to any drilling related activities on their territories.

The number of participants to the GlobalFrack Down in Saint-Chistol les Ales shows that the population remains very mobilised. Close to Alès, a drilling company is about to start some geological assessments with helicopters during the week of the 24th of September: The population is ready to ‘welcome’ the seismic trucks.

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