After the successful French Citizen uprising to frack down the fracking method: September 22 is Global Frackdown Day

Via Maxime Combes:

As you may know, September 22 is a Global Frackdown day to challenge all the fracking, shale gas & shale oil projects all over the world.

Global website : http://www.globalfrackdown.org/

All the 100 events : http://action.foodandwaterwatch.org/p/salsa/event/common/public/search.sjs?distributed_event_KEY=682

Please find below an article telling the incredible mobilization that we have in France and made ??France the first country to ban fracking whose consequence is to leave shale gas and shale oil in the ground for the moment.

Excerpted from Maxime Combes:

“In the autumn of 2010, very few people in France were aware of what some call “the shale gas revolution”. A little over a year later, few French people can claim to have never heard of it. In March 2010, Le Monde announced that the government of Nicolas Sarkozy had delivered three exploration licenses for “liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons” exploration in the South of France to the companies Total (the Montelimar permit) and Schuepbach (Villeneuve de Berg and Nant permits). Located in a region devoid of conventional gas and conventional oil, these permits have been called “shale gas permits” while French law only recognizes permits for “liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons” exploration. At the time and until late fall 2010, very few articles had been published on the subject and only a few whistleblowers have tried to alert citizens, associations, politicians, etc.

It was not until late 2010 – early 2011 that a huge citizens’ movement against shale gas /oil and against fracking began to form in France. Up till the demonstration of more than 15,000 people in Villeneuve de Berg4 in February 2011, which sounded the first warning shot of the resistance to come, mobilization had mainly consisted of the formation of small citizens’ groups who organized public meetings and published informational materials. Yet soon, the town-hall meetings in impacted communities were packed to overflowing, and very often, there were more participants in these meetings than inhabitants in the villages, especially in Ardèche, Gard, Aveyron, etc. Conceded without any public debate or real environmental investigation on the effects of the techniques used, the three permits have worried local communities beyond environmentalists: hunters, anglers, cavers and “ordinary citizens” were part of this first alert phase.

The film Gasland by Josh Fox5, explaining the implications of fracking in various regions of the United States, has been aired thousands of times in long, short or modified versions. As elsewhere, the sincere and powerful images of this film have generated deep emotions and a desire not to let fracking and shale gas extraction happen in local regions. The scene in the film where landowner Mike Markham ignites gas from a well water faucet in his home with a cigarette lighter due to natural gas exploration in the area is a far more effective argument against fracking than any report or speech.

The economic, technical and geological facts of the debate were disseminated and knowledge spread at an incredible speed, in a process similar to that around the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) in 2005. Today, many activists have become unparalleled experts on extraction technologies, despite the lack of any background or training in that area. They know by heart all the arguments from scientific studies explaining the consequences of the exploitation of shale gas. As many examples indicate in the United States, Canada, England and elsewhere, the exploitation of shale gas has led to countless cases of chemical and toxic pollution, health consequences for the populations, the wasting of drinking water, destroying lands, earthquakes, and major greenhouse gas emissions.

As the three licenses already mentioned are located in areas with water scarcity, two of the main critiques against these projects related to the use of water and water pollution. Fracking uses large amounts of compressed water, sand and chemicals to free natural gas from its geophysical reservoirs. Fracking can also cause the contamination of surface and groundwater (including drinking water) with toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids, and increasing the concentration in such water of methane and hazardous and radioactive materials that naturally occur in shale. Because vast quantities of fresh water are required in fracking operations, fracking involves pumping vast amounts of freshwater underground, much of which becomes irretrievable and / or contaminated.

First law in the world that prohibits fracking

The very broad initial alliances build in France have forced many politicians from all sides, and from both the local and the national levels, to take very clear positions against fracking and shale gas, without waiting for instructions or decisions from their various Parisian headquarters. These positions taken by local elected officials have often been transformed into pledges by local authorities. The Parisian establishment, both in government and in business, was surprised and overwhelmed. They proved incapable of countering the surging movement and its demands. When ministers began to call for a pause or moratorium on the issuance of permits, the local groups, assembled in their National Coordinating Council, were already demanding the cancellation of all existing permits.

While improving their knowledge on the subject and discovering the intricacies of mining legislation, local groups soon came to understand that there were not three permits but 64 permits for “liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons” exploration, many of them located in the Paris region, to explore and extract shale oil, and held by companies such as Vermilion and Toreador. Unable to counter the immediate demands of the movement, the ministers and the government came up with misleading statements (such as “French-style fracking”), or resorted to rhetorical dodges (a “moratorium” that wasn’t a true one), in an effort to avoid addressing the actual situation.

For their part, the members of parliament, caught short by a debate they had not seen coming and didn’t have a handle on, ended up submitting four different bills to the Parliament. Once these had gone through the legislative mill, the proposal that came out was considerably watered down, compared to the expectations and demands of the movement (Law of July 13, 2011). Although hydraulic fracking has been banned, it has not been precisely defined, which gives free rein to new interpretations and formulations. The law leaves open the possibility for experimentation under the guise of scientific research and improvement of knowledge. This misuse of science is a breach into which research labs and companies tied to the oil and gas industries will move. Although many permits should have fallen victim to this law and been cancelled, only three6 – in the regions with the greatest mobilization – had been definitely canceled by early October 2011.

If the configuration of forces was sufficient to result in the cancellation of these three permits, that was in part due to the fact that the citizens’ mobilizations were complemented by legal action challenging the methods of licensing, or their legal grounds, etc. Often scattered, and uncoordinated, or even at cross purposes, some of these legal actions have clearly contributed to the cancellation of the three permits, with the combined files being far too consistent for the government to take the risk of upholding the permits. This legal work continues with regard to the remaining permits, particularly oriented towards obtaining all necessary information in order to have a comprehensive map of the existing permits and their weaknesses.

Of course, many people were initially mobilized to protect their own territory. Not as a NIMBY– “not in my backyard” approach – but in a way that questions sovereignty over the local territory and land use planning. Such an approach amounts to re-politicizing spatial planning by formulating an alternative that inextricably mixes together the local and the global, the territorial and what we could call, from a French perspective, the universal, or “the commons”. The French movement against shale gas and oil fracking has included an international dimension from the outset. First, because the principal mobilizing tool, the film Gasland, was shot in the US. But also because the mobilizations in Quebec, which achieved a semi-moratorium, were used as a point of reference. A common language made it easy for French people and French local groups to read news coming from Quebec and to forge links with local Quebec groups. Soon, the slogan “Neither here nor elsewhere” became widespread. Following the achievement of the law banning fracking, interest in learning more about the situation in other countries has steadily increased. Many links have been forged, initially interpersonal ones, then some group twinning, especially between French and Quebecois groups has emerged. Now, a new step has been initiated: structuring these links and the building of a European, or even an international coordination, of the grassroots movements. After the meetings we organized in Marseilles (France) during the Alternative World Water Forum FAME (march 2012) and in Rio (Brazil) during the People’s summit (June 2012), each with participants coming from several countries, the next step is the Global Frackdown day that will be held on the 22nd of September.

The fact that this movement is not only locally rooted in defending local territories was crucial to broaden the mobilization towards the necessary energy transition we need. But this step was neither easy nor obvious. This broadening of the debate, which shifted many lines of demarcation, has given rise to two main different political orientations. One line that remains focused more narrowly on shale gas and shale oil fracking, deepening the mobilization and anchoring it more deeply through dissemination, education, strengthening of groups, and extension of the territorial presence, etc. Another focused more on proactive work to broaden the mobilization to support global energy issues. Between deepening and broadening, as everyone knows, problems, as well as tensions, may arise. These problems and tensions were aggravated by the lack of time for debate. With a mobilization which quickly grew to major size and got results quickly, it was extremely difficult to take time to organize work and debate between and within the groups, and between the groups and the national organizations.

Very soon, the idea of organizing a big rally in the summer of 2011 was discussed. Initially seen as a show of force – a huge anti-fracking Larzac7 – the initiative was abandoned in part because of practical difficulties, such as lack of time and materials, venue problems, etc., and political problems, such as what form it should take once the law prohibiting fracking had been passed. The idea of such a gathering was taken up by other local groups who had offered to host the Lezan meeting on “energy transition”, in which ATTAC France, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others were all involved. Some of the groups, the Ardèche8 coordination group, for example, did not wish to join this initiative, since they considered the issue too broad with respect to the goals of the shale gas mobilisation. On the other hand, the promoters of this meeting wanted to encompass the entire range of energy issues, even at the risk that, after Lezan, a slower and more reduced process of “convergence” would result9.

But in the end, the Lezan meeting was really key to mix several issues with anti-fracking debates such as with climate issues for example. Many French people present there have discovered the Cochabamba declaration10 on climate change and the rights of Mother Earth at that time. Linking fracking with climate requires us to define what we want as an energy transition. In order to limit global warming below 1,5 degrees Celsius, and thereby prevent dangerous climate change, fossil fuels must be phased out as quickly as possible. Energy sobriety, energy savings, renewable energies and a significant reduction of CO2 emissions will provide the only viable path to an environmentally sustainable and healthy future. The Lezan declaration proposes to engage an energy transition without delay, implying moving towards sobriety and efficiency, stopping the race for fossil fuels and immediate reduction of greenhouses gas emissions up to the requirements stipulated in the Cochabamba people’s agreement. Exploiting unconventional fossil fuels such as shale gas, shale oil and coal bed methane will increase total greenhouse gas emissions and consequently global warming.

One year later, the tension between broadening and deepening is still in evidence, but it is being overcome, for faced with reality, everyone is gradually realizing that broadening and deepening can only be carried out in conjunction.”

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