French court rules in favour of Total
The administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise ruled in favor of Total on January 28 over a legal appeal concerning the Montelimar permit in the southeast of France. The license was granted to the French company in 2010 but repealed in 2011 following the passing of the fracking ban in the French parliament.
The decision does not come as a surprise. The public prosecutor did not find any reason to justify the repeal during the hearing on January 8 as Total said it had no intention to use the controversial fracking technique in this permit.
Anti-fracking activists, environmental groups and elected officials opposed to shale gas explorations anticipated the decision and plan a protest on February 28 in Barjac, a small town in the department of Gard, one of the five departments impacted by the 4,327 km2 permit which covers also Ardeche, Drome, Herault and Vaucluse.
The reaction is more politically driven given the fact that the permit re-awarded to Total, granted for five years, expired in March 2015. But shale gas opponents have renewed their calls for reforming the mining code. The national secretary for energy transition within the centre-left Partie Socialiste, Sabine Buis, presented a draft bill on January 27 which could amend France’s mining code to ban not just fracking but all of the alternative techniques used to explore or develop non-conventional resources.
Sabine Buis who represents a district in the department of Ardèche was quick to react to the court decision. “This decision re-allocate the Montélimar permit to Total while the local population in Ardèche showed, with an unprecedented demonstration, its opposition to underground developments by speculators hoping to make profit and then leaving an unacceptable environment debt,” Buis said in a statement.
Jose Bove, a prominent figure of the green movement who led the anti-fracking fight locally in 2011 and is also a member of the European Parliament condemned the decision, calling the French government to react. “I am asking to the government to appeal the decision because the fracking ban is undermined. The impossibility to use the hydraulic fracturing was introduced in the law. We must imperatively clarify its ambiguities to make sure the law is implemented”, Bove says.
The CEO of Total, Patrick Pouyanne, said in an interview before the decision, said he would meet French authorities to try to find a common ground on shale gas exploration but he made it clear he has no desire to “force through on this issue nor to slip in through the back door. I have no plan to invest money in a project that would be badly perceived by French people especially given the current oil prices."