François Fillon Annuls Everything but Renounces Nothing

Translated by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Bill Scoble

We more or less felt it coming.

Promotion of hydrocarbon extraction no longer has any wind in its sails anywhere, even among those who had given it the first entry permits. In a speech to the National Assembly, François Fillon announced on Wednesday the cancelation of permits for exploration for shale gas, permits awarded by the government these past three years. The conditions under which these permits were granted were not satisfactory, the prime minister argued before the National Assembly. Insufficient consultation, not enough information … “I accept, as head of government, my part of the responsibility,” he affirmed, a mea culpa reminiscent of that staged recently by Jean-Louis Borloo.

Last week, the former minister of the environment considered that “the law does not always give the State the means to become informed, and thus to be effective in opposing projects susceptible of becoming dangerous.” He announced, among other matters, that he was preparing a law aimed at abrogating all the exclusive permits for prospecting for unconventional hydrocarbons issued … by his own offices.

In 2008 and 2009, his ministry had accorded several permits for exploration for shale oil — petroleum, that is — in the Paris basin. He continued this process in March 2010, assigning, in the Journal officiel [1], three permits for exploration for shale gas, to the companies Total, GDF, and Schuepbach. Spread across five departments [2] in the south of France, this authorization at first escaped notice. But since December 2010, the citizenry is aroused, denouncing the absence of transparency in the decision made to open the path for technologies accused of damaging the environment. The principal target of this criticism is the practice known as hydraulic fracking, which is susceptible of contaminating drinking water to a dangerous degree. In February 2011, in face of this mobilization, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the present minister of ecology, went into reverse gear. She established a commission to study the problem (the mid-term report of this study is due in a few days) and decreed a moratorium on drilling for shale gas. This moratorium expires in June.

The Lack of Any Judicial Instrument for Canceling the Permits

By announcing that the government would support an outright cancelation of the permits for exploration, François Fillon appears to be putting a final stop to this story. But for all that, the tale is not yet told, because the government presently possesses no judicial instrument for annulling the permits it has granted, and must necessarily proceed to passing a new law. Two proposals have already been presented to parliament. The first, by the Socialist Party, due to be discussed on 12 May. The second, presented later by the UMP deputy Christian Jacob, largely dispenses with the politeness. Described as an emergency measure by the government, it should be debated on 10 May. Both measures ask for the annulment of existing permits and, continuing, rule out any drilling for shale gas or shale oil. The socialist measure also requires the outlawing of petroleum mining in deep waters, of the type drilled in the gulf of Mexico and in a current project in Guyana.

Where are we at the end of the day? The two laws should provide matter for a common debate based on the text by Mr. Jacob. “Except for the chapter concerning offshore drilling, the entire set of points at issue should be retained”, optimistically declares Jean-Paul Chanteguet, vice-president of the Socialist group and in charge of questions on environment. “This is a real political victory, in the sense that the elected representatives have known how to sieze hold of a subject and defend it through to the end.”

The objective, however, will not be attained even if the law is adopted. François Fillon said specifically: “I don’t want us to close off all possibility of exploiting this type of resource.” No question of sacrificing our environment. But “No question, either, of closing the door to technological progress that will permit us, tomorrow, to capture new sources of energy.” A breach in the wall that the petroleum companies will not fail to notice, and which the annulment of permits does not seem to discourage. “To deprive ourselves of oil and of shale gas doesn’t seem very reasonable,” insists Jean-Louis Shilansky, president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries (Ufip). This breach will also not escape the promoters of energy transition, who plead for the progressive abandon of hydrocarbons, shale and others in this category.

Three Days of Mobilizations

Friday, 15 April, rallies are planned in Avignon in the Vaucluse (in front of the Sub-Prefecture at 16h), in Brignoles in the Var (in front of the Sub-Prefecture at 15h), and in Aix-en-Provene in the Bouches-du-Rhône (in front of the Sub-Prefecture at 12h30).

Saturday, 16 April, a rally is planned in Meaux in the Seine-et-Marne (place de l’Europe) and in Marseille (in front of the Prefecture at 16h). A “multi-cultural festival” is organized at Rousson, in the Gard. In Donzère, in the Drome, the local collective proposes a picnic (starting at 12h in the roadside rest area of Combelonge, on the national highway RN 7, departmental highway D 541), then a march and rally in front of the city hall of the minister of energy, Éric Besson. In Lyon, the collective organizes initiatives at the markets.

Finally, on Sunday, 17 April, rallys and marches are planned in Cahors in the Lot (at 15h), in Nant in the Aveyron (at 12h) and at Blyes in the Ain (12h).

Points of View

We Remain Prudent, and, Above All, Mobilized
Claude Pradal, Mayor (PCF) of Villeneuve-de-Berg, Ardèche

“We are somewhat satisfied with the announcement by the prime minister of the annulment of the permits issued for shale gas exploration and the depositing of several proposals for laws in the National Assembly in order to formalize that decision. Nevertheless, we remain prudent, and, most important, we remain mobilized. On the one hand, because as long as the law is not yet adopted and its decrees of application are not yet published, the permits remain valid. And on the other hand, we consider that the battle is not yet definitively won. The prime minister does not definitively close the door on exploration and exploitation of shale gas. He does not rule out that this activity may recommence in the future, with evolution in technology. The oil and gas groups have not given up, and are pressuring the government. Witness the declarations of the presiding officer of Total, Christophe de Margerie, who says “We’re going to wait for things to calm down. I’m in no hurry.” The people of the Ardèche will be out in large numbers to demonstrate at Donzère in the Drome, to demand the definitive abandon of exploitation of shale gas, throughout French territory.

We Continue to Demand a Definitive Abandon
Jean-Louis Joseph, president of Regional Parks of France, a federation of the 46 existing parks

“The announcement by the prime minister, François Filon, of the annulment of the permits for exploration for shale gas gives us a certain satisfaction. As does the decision to examine before parliament, via an emergency procedure, the texts giving concrete form to this decision. This said, the head of government does not definitively close the door to exploration and exploitation of shale gas. He is careful to say that they can recommence that activity if ’clean’ methods of exploitation are developed. Concerning the 46 regional parks in existence, we believe it will not be possible to extract this gas without causing considerable damage. We will also continue to demand the definitive abandon of this extraction. The title Regional Park is a demanding label, which fixes draconian norms to be respected. These norms apply to those who live or work in the territories involved. One cannot, on the one hand, promote responsible development in the regional parks and, on the other, authorize this race forward on fossil energy.”

We Fear that the Government is Maneuvering in Reverse Gear
Jean-Marie Juanaberra , representing the Collective ’Causses et Vallées’, 12-34 (Hérault (34) and Aveyron (12))

“We have taken note of the announcements by the prime minister, François Fillon. We are half-satisfied. The decision suits us: to annul the permits for exploration and the authorizations to drill. We nevertheless remain vigilant, waiting for the decrees of application. We call for a massive demonstration on Sunday in Nant, in the Aveyron. The mobilization must continue. The prime minister is not engaged in favor of a definitive abandon of exploitation of shale gas. He is keeping the door open. Already some people are saying that ’clean’ methods of extraction are ready. We suspect that by announcing the annulment of the permits, the government has made the decision to maneuver in reverse gear. It is probably looking for a way to defuse the revolt of the population, waiting to find a moment more favorable to relaunch the drilling operations. After the presidential elections, for example! It is also no doubt a way to gain time, to work for acceptance of shale gas by the population.”

[1] The official public listing of French government actions, laws and decrees.

[2] l’Hérault, l’Aveyron, le Gard, l’Ardèche and the Vaucluse, an area of 9672 square kilometers (3734 square miles)