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A coalbed methane ‘stratum’ for a low-carbon future: A critical inquiry from the Lorraine Basin (France)

Abstract : Coalbed methane exploration in Lorraine (France) is part of a rush to unconventional natural gas around the world. These resources are envisioned as a “transitional bridge” to a low-carbon economy dominated by renewable generation. This paper tackles the idea that such a “fuel bridge” could lead to a more sustainable transition. It studies the network of actors and interests involved in exploring a coalbed methane ‘volume’, its modelling and how it becomes public. Through this lens, it shows how a ‘volume’ endures in a ‘stratum’, as well as the political issues related to this reconfiguring of the underground in Lorraine. The article contributes to three debates in relation with political geology. First, it proposes a renewed defi-nition of ‘volume’ based on the work of Michel Serres. The ‘volume’ is not a property of the underground nor a geometric ideality but defined as a transitory ordering of the ‘multitude’ that encompasses material, knowledge and political issues. It enables the development of a more continuous analytical strategy to follow geological and political crossed influences, and contributes to this project by going beyond existing divides (e.g. vitalist/ constructivist). Second, the paper provides the reader with a complementary perspective (from the field instead of a compilation of data at an international level) about what it means to assess an unconventional resource. The proposed definition of ‘volume’ does not reduce uncertainty to a matter of knowing but makes it constitutive of the making of a gas potential. This enables one to follow the chain of mediations through which uncertainty is framed and strategically managed to meet industrial, scientific and political interests, while taming local oppositions. Third, the paper analyses why this coalbed methane ‘stratum’ may be democratically contested and transitory instead of preparing the ground for a low-carbon transition. This case study looks at a unique situation in France, namely a private company receiving public support in the context of political tensions about un-conventional gas, and shows the country’s internal contradictions and delays in updating its institutions and strategy concerning the use of underground resources for a low-carbon transition.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-03087685
Contributor : Olivier Labussiere <>
Submitted on : Thursday, December 24, 2020 - 10:02:40 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 9:58:04 AM

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Olivier Labussiere. A coalbed methane ‘stratum’ for a low-carbon future: A critical inquiry from the Lorraine Basin (France). Political Geography, Elsevier, 2021, Earth Politics, 85, pp.102328. ⟨10.1016/j.polgeo.2020.102328⟩. ⟨halshs-03087685⟩

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