French Government Grants New Permits Ahead of UN Climate Change Conference
From November 30th to December 11th, all eyes will be on Paris, the home of the United Nations Climate Change Conference where world leaders will convene to negotiate a new deal to fight the impact of climate change. At center stage will be French President François Hollande who has tried to mobilize the international community throughout the year to make sure the COP 21 is a success though also to bolster his own political fortunes one year and a half before the next presidential election.
His speech delivered on September 28th in New York before the United Nations Annual Assembly was a wake-up call or a call for action two months before the conference. His determination looks consistent with his policies. After all, his administration has rejected any shale gas developments related to the fracking ban enacted by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy and backed by most French citizens.
France grants 3 new permits
Meanwhile, the French government has sent mixed signals ahead of the UN conference that could question its green commitment.
First, the appropriations to the Environment department will be cut again in the 2016 budget (from €7.32 billion last year to €7.14 billion this year. This is a €3 billion drop from 2010 before the crisis) just like the foreign development aid. These are two major issues that will be front and center at the COP 21.
Another decision that has recently put green politicians and activists on fire is the of granting 3 exclusive permits to prospect for liquid and gaseous conventional hydrocarbons:
- Champfolie, Seine et Marne in the Paris Basin granted to Vermillion for 4 years
- Estheria, Marne (Paris Basin) granted to Lundin International, a Swedish company, for 5 years.
- Herbsheim, Bas-Rhin (North East) granted to Bluebach Ressources, a branch of the Norwegian company Moore Energy, for 5 years.
The government also extended 4 licenses through:
- Bleue Lorraine, Moselle (North East) extended through 2018 for European Gas and Heritage Petroleum Plc.
- Plivot, Marne (Paris Basin) extended through 2020 for Lundin International.
- Pays de Born, Landes (South West) extended through 2017 for Vermillion.
- Juan de Nova Island (French Southern and Antarctic Territories) extended for South Atlantic Petroleum JDN SAS and Marex Petrolemum Corp through 2018.
These developments are very surprising as new permits have been refused for years. “Our request comes from 2011…. Underground prospections have been suspended since 2010 because of the controversy surrounding shale gas developments and the hydraulic fracturing technique,” Stéphane Touche told Rue 89 news website. The managing director of BlueBach Resources repeats that the new permit has nothing do with shale gas and does not allow the company to drill. “Our intention is to do some studies and find patches of liquid and crude oil left out by big companies because of the small amount,” he added. A new permit and a public hearing is required for any drilling.
Green activists on fire
Environmental groups are not very convinced by those remarks. Alsace Nature has tried to find a way to appeal the decision by pointing out the fact that the area includes natural reserves. “A government which claims to reject exploring or developing non-conventional resources should not accept coalbed gas operations by generating some confusion between coal gas and coalbed methane,” Isabelle Levy said, a member of an environmental group in the Paris Basin. She strongly believes that the fight against climate change starts by banning new permits. “The only real action a government which pretends to fight the impact of climate change can take would not it be to systematically deny new hydrocarbons prospections requests, a past source of energy?” Levy asks.
In the wake of the decision published in the Official Journal on September, 29, some two-dozen environmental groups and citizen organizations put out a press release urging the government to “cancel the newly granted permits and ending oil, gas and coal prospections in France so climate change talks and speeches truly translated into actual policies”. Advocacy groups point out the fact the recent decisions made by both Economic minister Emmanuel Macron and Environment Minister Ségolène Royal are in contradiction with the scientists guidelines to make sure global warming does not exceed 2°C by the end of the 21st century. Freeze 80% of the current hydrocarbon reserves.
The statement questions the French President green commitment. “François Hollande and the negotiators has made promises to get an historic deal in Paris and do everything they can to limit the global warming to 2°C but how much can you value those promises if the same time we support such an headlong policies and the climate disasters that go with it?”
Green activists and voters were never significant supporters of François Hollande and easy criticism is become a common practice but the timeline of recent decisions does not look good and raises questions about the outcome of the next climate conference in Paris which is just 40 days away.