French court to decide whether fracking ban is constitutional
Paris • 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 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 Tuesday. "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, 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 and Poland have the greatest potential for recoverable shale gas in Europe, the International Energy Agency has said. In the United States, where fracking is widely used, oil output is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia's by 2020, making the country almost self-reliant, according to the IEA.
The technique, which involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to release oil and gas from shale rock, has raised the ire of environmental groups who fear ground-water contamination.
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 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 British report on fracking outlines measures that could be taken to mitigate potential risks, Fornacciari argued Tuesday 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.
Tuesday'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.