Tunisians Protest against Shale Gas Extraction

Cross Posted from Tunisia Live


About 50 Tunisians gathered today in front of the Tunisian Ministry of Industry and Energy to protest the proposal to drill for shale gas in Tunisia with international energy firm Shell.

Members from civil society organizations and some political parties say the project would pollute the environment and jeopardize the health of Tunisians.

Shale gas is a natural gas extracted from sedimentary rocks composed of clay and other minerals found between 2000 and 3000 meters underground. While drilling for shale gas is thought to emit fewer greenhouse gases than other forms of drilling, critics say the practice can leak potentially carcinogenic waste into the environment and water supply and can increase the risk of earthquakes.

Hamma Hammami, secretary general of the Tunisian Worker’s Party, criticized the government’s “carelessness and irresponsibility.” The government would put lives at risk in order to profit from the shale gas extraction, he said, adding that his party supports the demands of civil society activists.

“This amounts to a crime,” Hammami said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Industry, Youssef Hachemi, reaffirmed that the Ministry has not yet granted Shell permission to extract shale gas.

The ministry is studying the Shell proposal in conjunction with the National Committee for Hydrocarbons and has requested a study on the environmental impact of shale gas extraction, Hachemi said.

But shale gas extraction has “a positive side, particularly in regards to the economy,” Hachemi said.

“The decision to grant the permit is not easy and requires consultation with the National Constituent Assembly, ministries of environment and agriculture and civil society members, as well as looking at other countries’ experiences,” he added.

But protesters pointed to statements from the Tunisian Minister of Industry and Engery Lamine Chakhari last week that suggested that the government was moving ahead with the project.

“They will grant Shell Company the final decision to extract shale gas” Chakhari told Tunisian newspaper Al Maghreb.

Sofiane Reguigui, president of Tunisian Association for Transparency in Energy and Mines (ATTEM), said her organization demands “clarification from this government regarding the permits granted to Shell.”  Reguigui asked, “We do not understand—why now?”

AgriEcoForest, an environmental advocacy group, demanded that the Constituent Assembly order “the immediate freezing of any activity related to the exploration and extraction of shale gas and the suspension of the license granted to Shell in the region of Kairouan,” said Achref Gharbi, secretary general of the association.

Gharbi said the association would call for the “boycott of products from the multinational company if it were granted a permit for such extraction.”

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