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In a boost for President François Hollande, France’s constitutional court has upheld a law banning fracking.
Anti-fracking campaigners were jubilant about the ruling:
“We must remain vigilant,” says one protester. “French people must not surrender to the stubborn petrol and gas companies.”
US firm Schuepbach Energy had challenged the 2011 ban on four counts, but all were dismissed in the court ruling.
Despite the ban, Schuepbach Energy went ahead with their planned exploration, leading to two of its permits in the south of France being suspended.
“It’s a legal victory, but also an environmental and political one,” said Philippe Martin, France’s Energy Minister.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, involves pumping pressurised water, chemicals and sand underground to release gas trapped in shale formations.
Concerns it could pollute groundwater, trigger earthquakes and put a stop to the country’s growing shale and gas industry, led to the process being banned in France under former president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande also opposes fracking, despite protests from some of his allies, who believe he is surrendering access to a cheap energy supply.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates five trillion cubic metres worth of shale gas reserves could lie in French soil, mainly in the Paris basin and the Rhône valley. This is believed to be the equivalent of 90 years of French gas consumption.
The French ban on fracking has strong judicial support, however, leaving these estimates unlikely to be confirmed.
The ruling goes against the pro-fracking consensus that exists throughout most of Europe.
Germany is likely to be the next country to seriously explore fracking. Despite protests, the UK could also see permits granted within two years.
Poland was considered a promising location for the process, however their hopes were dashed when disappointing drilling results saw three international firms quit.
The ruling in France comes on the same day as the International Energy Agency’s prediction that the US will overtake Russia by 2014, to become the world’s biggest oil producer outside OPEC.
In spite of the consensus on fracking in Europe, the IEA prediction has reopened the debate about the continent’s ability to compete on the international energy stage.