Six years after the Paris Agreement, the area surrounding Fontainebleau might directly benefit from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This is the good news many climbers have been waiting for—and it is far more important for the 612 inhabitants of Nonville, a small village four kilometres from the Fontainebleau Forest, as well as everybody else whose tap water comes from the catchment zones around the village.
Last year, oil and gas company Bridgeoil put forward a plan to extend their existing Nonville extraction site by ten new wells (UKC News). Today it seems likely that not only will there be no more boring, but the company may also have to employ stricter environmental measures.
A vigorous local campaign, combined with the outcry of the global climbing community, resulted in gathering more than 80,000 signatures to draw attention to the project's environmental risks, which extend far beyond the fragile ecosystem of the Fontainebleau Forest - the proposed zone also overlapped with protected 'Natura 2000' areas - and reach all the way to the Parisian waterworks. The Bridgeoil extraction site is located between two major water catchment zones and the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, concerned about the threat of contamination, joined the opposition.
A public enquiry took place in September and October last year but, due to the pandemic, the bureaucratic machine moved exceptionally slowly. Those concerned had to wait until January 2021 for the enquiry's outcome, but Nonville residents could finally breathe a sigh of relief as it was announced that the commissioner's opinion on the Bridgeoil project was negative. As France is moving toward alternative sources of energy, it was pointed out that ten new boreholes would not be compatible with the environmental objectives agreed upon as part of the Paris Agreement.
However, this does not mean that the Fontainebleau Forest is safe from the plans to extend the Bridgeoil drilling site. It is now up to Barbara Pombli, the French Minister of the Ecological Transition, to oppose the project. An earlier enquiry made by the same company in 2016 about a different site was already declined by the Ministry, giving hope for a similar outcome on this occasion.
Meanwhile, local authorities took steps to curb the emissions of odorous, potentially toxic compounds from the extraction site. Described as "a public health issue" by the campaigners, they are said to have been troubling the inhabitants of Nonville for nearly eight years. The association Environnement Bocage Gâtinais (EBG) estimated that the extension proposal would lead to a four-fold increase in toxic gas emissions (sulphur dioxide) in Nonville. A new analysis will determine whether additional measures from Bridgeoil are required to curb the existing emissions.
As the two existing wells in Nonville are close to being dried out, a Bridgeoil spokesperson pointed out that without extending the site, the company is likely to fold. While on the surface it might seem comforting news for environmentalists, the threats often posed by disused oil wells may lead to another crisis.
Beyond the larger environmental risks, the industrial complex in Nonville stands in stark contrast to the surrounding horse paddocks, the clear stream running through the village, and the quaint stone buildings. The site is located within five kilometres from the nearest bouldering sector on the northern border of the Fontainebleau Forest.