France Split By Call To Lift Fracking Ban

  • Date: 02/02/14
  • Adam Sage, The Times

A prominent yachtswoman and a flamboyant left-wing minister have joined forces to reignite an explosive debate over France’s ban on fracking.

Their interventions have split the Cabinet and set alarm bells ringing in rural France, where opposition to shale gas exploration is fierce. Critics argue that the technique will deface and pollute many stunning landscapes; proponents say that a flagging economy can ill afford to spurn the 3.8 trillion cubic metres of shale gas reserves France is thought to possess.

The row began when Arnaud Montebourg, the outspoken Minister for Industrial Renewal, called for a review on legislation which makes it illegal to look for or to extract shale gas. The Bill was introduced by President Sarkozy in 2011 in an attempt to defuse protests over his decision to award licences for shale gas exploration. He withdrew the licences and François Hollande, his successor, promised to maintain the ban.

Mr Montebourg accused environmentalists of “intellectual terrorism” in their campaign against fracking. He added that while he had little hope of changing Mr Hollande’s mind over hydraulic fracturing, he would seek to promote a new technique that involves using propane rather than water to break up the rocks that contain shale gas. “No pollution under the ground, no pollution on the surface,” he said. “I think it’s possible to convince him.”

His comments were political dynamite. Cécile Duflot, the Housing Minister, accused him of being “intoxicated” by economic lobbies.

However, Mr Montebourg found a powerful ally in the form of Maud Fontenoy, famed for completing a solo trip across the Antarctic and for rowing across the Atlantic. She has become an enthusiastic environmentalist since retiring as a sailor, but stunned ecologists when she announced that she was in favour of shale gas exploration. She said that its exploitation in France could create more than 100,000 jobs.

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