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France

Gasland's director tours France as anti-fracking law faces uncertain future

media Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox next to the oil well in Jouarre Sarah Elzas

 France passed a law banning fracking, a controversial process of extracting oil and gas out of shale rock, in 2011. But the law is being challenged in court, and activists are worried that oil companies are starting to drill conventional wells now, in anticipation of the ban being overturned.

This is something that surprised Josh Fox, the American director of Gasland, the Oscar-nominated documentary about the US fracking industry, as he toured France to promote his latest film.

"What I had heard from the president [Francois Hollande] was that he was not going to allow this in his term, so I'm confused. He has to explain this," he said last week in Jouarre, about 65 kilometres west of Paris, where the American oil company Hess has been drilling a well since August.

The oil well outside of Jouarre Sarah Elzas

For now, it's a standard, vertical well. But anti-fracking activists say that the only fuel under the ground here is shale oil, which can only be accessed by fracking.

Fracking is the process of releasing oil and gas trapped in shale using high-pressure fracking fluid – water and sand mixed with various chemicals. The fluid is pumped into a horizontal well, and breaks fissures into the rock to release the feul.

Standing on a road through a field next to the well in Jouarre, Fox noticed a lot of water tanks.

"If you're fracking you're going to have many of those," he said. "It could also just mean drilling, they use a lot of water to drill.... I'm interested in what's going on with the water tanks."

Fox was greeted in Jouarre as something of a celebrity, even here in France, far from the fracking wells in the US.

Isabelle Levy, one of the leaders of the citizen movement against oil drilling in Jouarre, says Gasland has become a symbol.

"Every activist, even those who do not speak English, has seen pictures from Gasland. Maybe not the full film, but everybody has seen a part of the first Gasland."

The film, showing the extent of fracking in the US, is a kind of warning for France.

"We don't have this situation yet. We don't have any fracking yet," said Levy. The only examples are from abroad, and the US is "a real example not to be followed."

Josh Fox agrees.

"I hope that the film is not resonant in other countries," he said. "I hope that you don't follow our example."

Fox admits he did not know much about French fracking issues before coming to France. But he said he had been impressed by the protests across France that preceded the 2011 law banning fracking.

Lee Ziesche, the Community Organiser for Gasland, who was travelling with Fox, says American activists have been inspired by European anti-fracking movements.

"The protests in France were some of the largest in the world," she said. "You guys know how to protest! You know how to get out there and be out in the streets, which is an important part of influencing the government and making an impact."

Her and Fox's visit to Europe is more than a promotional tour. Gasland 2 is not slated to be released in France anytime soon. Instead, Ziesche says it's an organizing tool, something that Isabelle Levy understands well.

"We can speak as individuals. But when we can use a movie to speak to more than 100 people in a theatre, it's a way to amplify and make it bigger," she said.

"We know that lobbies are strong, so it's very important to be able to have anther voice, another way of speaking."

A French documentary about fracking was recently produced by filmmakers Doris Buttignol and Carole Menduni, called No Gazaranne, which will be released in theatres in January.

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