Protesters call for shale oil drilling ban
Thousands of people demonstrated across France over the weekend to protest against shale oil drilling - the controversial natural gas and oil extraction process that is currently subject to a moratorium imposed by French Prime Minister François Fillon.
Shale oil has been presented as a cleaner, and more local, alternative to imported petroleum. But residents in the areas where drilling permitshave been issued are worried about alleged health hazards.
About 2,000 people turned out to protest in Meaux, in the Brie region - home to the famous cheese - east of Paris.
The shale rock sediments under the Seine-et-Marne department, of which Meaux is the largest town, contain reserves of natural gas and petrol that the government would like to extract.
But residents are not happy.
“The problem with shale gas is the hydraulic fracturing process,” says Eric Vaubourg, from Crécy-la-Chapelle, a town of 4,000 inhabitants a few kilometres south of Meaux. “With this process it’s difficult to extract gas and oil correctly without pollution.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, - the method used to extract shale gas and oil fluid - forces fluid into rock formations, creating fractures, that release gas and oil and push them to the surface.
The process uses a lot of water. It also used chemicals, some of which have been shown to be toxic, like benzene, known to cause cancer, and lead.
The fractures in the rock formations mean that these chemicals can find their way into the water table, the opponents say.
The issue has galvanised people - many of whom are demonstrating for the first time in their lives.
One of them is Sophia Amani, who lives in a small town near Meaux.
“We are not the protesting types, to tell you the truth. We don't usually manage to get to protests, even if we agree with the issue,” she says. She came to the anti-shale oil protest with her husband and two young children because, she says, the issue really made her angry.
“Its out of the question that we let them do this. It's almost criminal. For me, water pollution is a very serious issue - for our children, for our neighbours, and for nature.”
Protests against shale oil drilling in Seine-et-Marne and elsewhere in France have caught the attention of national politicians. Prime Minister Francois Fillon has called a halt to the practice until at least June. And three bills aiming to ban the process are on the table in
Local officials and residents say they will not back down until the law banning shale oil drilling is actually passed.
Simone Evra, a retired medical researcher from the region, is not opitimistic.
She says there is too much money involved.
“I am convinced they will continue the drilling, because they will say that we need petrol. All these big companies, they want to make money,” she says.
Others are more optimistic, like Green MEP Eva Joly who joined the Meaux protest. She says protest movements have pushed the government to change its stance and consider withdrawing permits issued to drilling companies.
“We will continue until these permits are cancelled,” she said, adding that she is confident that the government can change its position on the issue.
The parliamentary debate on shale oil drilling ban starts on 10 May.