Citizens Say, No Fracking Way

By Asop, Julia | Herizons, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Citizens Say, No Fracking Way


Asop, Julia, Herizons


(FRANCE) At a town hall meeting in SaintMarcel-lès-Sauzet, France, a sixtyish woman asks, "What size knife should I bring?"

The knife she's inquiring aboutis intended forthe tires of an expected gas company truck. Should one of the trucks arrive on her cobblestone streets, this petite, chic citizen is ready and willing to put her body on the line. Human chains and tire-slashing are being discussed in this group of concerned citizens.

Saint-Marcel-lès-Sauzet lies in the RhôneAlpes region of France, just 290 km from the yachts of Saint-Tropez. The region's two main industries are tourism and agriculture. In the summer, the village overflows with retired couples who come to sample the fine wine and traditional picadon cheese for which the region is famed. Both the tourists and the wine that draws them are currently facing a new threat - shale gas drilling. Opponents worry that drilling techniques using chemical-laced water, a process known as fracking, pose a threat to drinking water and wildlife.

Two years ago, European energy companies signed contracts with French Ecology Minister Jean Louis Booloo granting them the right to begin surveying or mining for between three and five years. At the time, little to no public consultation was held in the affected areas. Most citizens learned of the federal government's sign-off on their land six months after the fact, when the ecological party Ecologie les Verts and environmental organizations began holding informational sessions to spread awareness.

Each information session showed a clip of Josh Fox's Gasland, an American documentary that details the disastrous environmental and health effects of shale gas extraction. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) is designed to exploit small pockets of natural gas using a combination of water pressure, sand and proprietary chemicals to release the gas by fracturing the shale. The process uses between 80 and 300 different chemicals. The danger lies in the chemicals that are used. Improper disposal of chemicals or cracking wells can lead to contaminated water supplies, leaving residents with undrinkable tap water.

After the contracts came to light, citizens quickly organized collectifs - informal activist groups - for each region. The collectifs placed pressure on municipal and national politicians to repeal the contracts and ban fracking through day-long demonstrations, petitions and poster campaigns. Eighteen thousand protesters came out to the first demonstration in the Ardèche region, a staggering show of support for a town of just 3,000.

Odette Henri, 52, is the head organizer of the Saint-Marcel collectif. She circulated a petition and rallied other concerned citizens to attend local council meetings, convincing the mayor to pass a law banning the use of local water for shale gas extraction and placing a weight limitation that effectively prohibited any trucks needed for extraction or construction from using local roadways. …

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