French Court to Decide Whether Fracking Ban Is Constitutional

Will the French ban on fracking crack under industry pressure? by Christopher Werth, September 24, 2013, Public Radio International
Hearings began on Tuesday on whether parts of the law that bans fracking are unconstitutional. The challenge comes from Dallas-based Schuepbach Energy. The company didn’t respond to a request for an interview, but in a nutshell, Schuepbach says the anti-fracking law isn’t equally applied, and it wrongly stripped the company of exploration licenses it already held. Thomas Porcher, an energy economist in Paris, and author of the book “The Mirage of Shale Gas”, says the case is highly unusual. “We are not used to a company that try to change the law like that in France,” Porcher says. But Porcher says in this case the oil and gas industry is lobbying hard against the law. “They push, they push, they push the government to do what they want to do.” If the court does strike down the ban, Porcher says the French government will most likely just pass another fracking law that would pass constitutional muster.

Indeed, opposition to fracking would seem to be bipartisan here. The law was signed under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy. Current Socialist President Francois Hollande came into office last year supporting the ban, and earlier this year he stood by his commitment, telling French television that as long as he was president, there would be no exploration of shale gas in France. But of course it’s not so simple. A growing chorus of lawmakers is questioning the ban, and a recent parliamentary report said it should be relaxed. Even Hollande’s own Industry Minister has come out in favor of some kind of shale gas and oil production. And Hollande’s former Ecology Minister claims she was fired because of her strong opposition to the industry. Given the political division, anti-fracking campaigners believe oil and gas companies are already planning for the ban’s demise.

“And hopefully the ban could be reversed,” he says. “Or at least that’s what we want.” But energy economist Thomas Porcher says the industry still has to contend with French public opinion, which largely shares his caution towards fracking. A recent Harris poll showed less than a third of respondents support drilling for shale gas. Porcher says France learned a lesson nearly half a century ago when it plunged headlong into nuclear power. “We know that when we make a choice about energy, we have to live with the choice for a long time,” Porcher says. “That’s why now we take a little bit of time to go in fracking, because we don’t want to regret it, as I think we regret the nuclear.” [Emphasis added]

French Court to Decide Whether Fracking Ban Is Constitutional by Tara Patel, September 24, 2013, Bloomberg
A French court will decide next month whether a ban on the oil- and natural-gas-drilling technique known as fracking violates the constitution after Schuepbach Energy LLC called the law unfair. “No study has established that there is any risk linked to hydraulic fracturing,” Marc Fornacciari, a lawyer representing the Dallas-based company, told the constitutional court in Paris today. “It has been used 45 times in France and has never caused one problem.” France banned fracking in 2011 and canceled shale-exploration licenses held by companies including Schuepbach and Total SA (FP), the country’s biggest oil company, after protests by environmental groups. The ban has proved divisive, pitting Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who backs drilling for unconventional resources as a way to create jobs, against Environment Minister Philippe Martin. The government will maintain the ban even if the current law is struck down in court, Martin told a parliamentary hearing this month. The court will render its decision Oct. 11.

France’s oil lobby Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres has urged a reversal of the ban to boost domestic energy production and encourage factories to set up French operations. Total Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie and his counterpart at GDF Suez SA (GSZ) Gerard Mestrallet have spoken in favor of drilling. A parliamentary report concluded in June that the ban should be eased to allow surveys to estimate shale reserves. A U.K. report on fracking outlines measures that could be taken to mitigate potential risks, Fornacciari argued today for Schuepbach. The French law is unfair because permits have been granted by the government for deep geothermal projects that will require fracking, he said.

The ban is justified by reports from French research organizations including Bureau de Recherche Geologiques et Minieres and IFP Energies Nouvelles, said Thierry-Xavier Girardot, who was representing the government. “This ban is the only measure that can ensure the protection of the environment,” he said. Today’s arguments focused on whether the ban is justified in light of protections granted by France’s Environmental Charter, which is part of the constitution. The charter allows authorities to take “provisional and proportionate” measures to protect against potential risks that may not be scientifically proven. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

The Science Is Deafening, Industry’s Gas Migration The ERCB’s Stephan Bachu and independent consultant Teresa Watson (later appointed to the Board) presented in Paris, France that an increase in the number of water wells in heavily fractured oil and gas fields increases “the likelihood that gas, due to migration through shallow zones, can accumulate in buildings.” A few years later, France became the first country to make frac’ing illegal.

2013 09 22 Ernst vs Encana AER and Alberta government, Still no ruling by Justice Wittmann on arguments he did not hear 8 months ago

Slide from Welcome Home to a “Natural Drilling Platform” by Jessica Ernst at the People’s Forum, September 22, 2013, Stephenville, Newfoundland

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