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Months Of Protests Pay Off, France Becomes 1st Country To Ban Fracking

By Theodora Filis

This week, France, believed to have some of the biggest natural gas reserves in Europe, has become the first country in the world to put an outright ban on Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking).

France's bill to ban fracking, but not shale gas exploration itself, was drafted by the country's ruling UMP party after months of protests by environmental activists concerned that the process contaminates drinking water. Earlier this year, France's government granted energy giants exploration permits for work without public consultation, but announced a temporary freeze on shale gas exploration in February.

A report by Scientific American said, the French vote was split along party lines, but the opposition largely came from the Socialist Party, which did not think the ban went far enough because it contains loopholes that allow the exploitation of oil shale deposits by other means.

France's ban on fracking came on the heels of reports that the US state of New York was about to lift its de facto moratorium on fracking, which has had an informal ban on the process since 2008. In a surprising move, New York is soon expected to lift the ban in most places. New York’s new rules will ban the practice in state parks and watershed areas, but otherwise allow it. Andrew Cuomo’s office is thought to be on board with the plan, but has not said so publicly.

Hydraulic Fracturing, involves injecting water and sand mixed with a cocktail of poisonous chemicals, dangerous to human health and polluting drinking water, deep into underground oil shale deposits, to force out hidden reserves of natural gas that cannot be extracted any other way. Pioneered in the early years of the twenty-first century by companies like Halliburton, fracking has dramatially increased estimates of the amount of natural gas that could be recovered for fuel in the US and other countries throughout the world.

Most energy companies in the US are not required to disclose what chemicals they use while fracking, and widely use compounds include the carcinogen benzene, and more than sixty other chemicals that cause cancer or other serious health problems. Fracking also frees underground deposits of methane gas that can seep groundwater or escape into the air. In some parts of the US where fracking is widespread, water from an indoor tap can actually become flammable due to methane released by nearby fracking projects. The image of water from a faucet being lit on fire with a match has become a rallying point for environmentalists concerned with the dangers of fracking.

The state of New Jersey has implemented the first statewide legislative ban on fracking, while other states and local governments are now looking to stronger regulations to control the damage from natural gas extraction. In Texas, companies have finally been required to publicly disclose a list of chemicals they use during the fracking process, making it easier for environmental groups and nearby communities to judge the risk to local water supplies.

From South Africa to Canada, countries with large natural gas deposits are under pressure from the gas industry to allow fracking to move forward. Hopefully, France's move to ban fracking will reverberate throughout the world, helping other countries to take heed of the impact facking has on human health and the environment.

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