France suspends Shell oil exploration off French Guiana
PARIS, (Reuters) – The French government has put on hold plans by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in four sites off the coast of French Guiana while it carries out a review of how permits are awarded with an eye on the environment, the energy minister said.
Shell had been expecting to receive authorisation tomorrow to begin looking for oil in the sites 150 kilometres off the coast of the French overseas territory, the Le Monde newspaper reported earlier today.
“I am re-examining all these permits … We include in the review the permit granted to the company Shell in Guiana,” Energy Minister Nicole Bricq told reporters at a news conference on the United Nations’ Rio+20 environment summit.
The goal for the new government under Socialist President Francois Hollande is to revise the Napoleonic-era French mining code that governs such matters, because previous reforms of it had barely taken the environment into account, Bricq said.
“The reform of the mining code is launched. It is a subject that will be discussed in the energy debate,” she added, referring to a planned July national debate on energy transition.
Later today, she expected to meet Patrick Romeo, head of Shell’s French division, to discuss Guiana as well as the future of the Petit-Couronne refinery, which Shell sold to Swiss refiner Petroplus in 2008, she said.
Shell agreed last month to supply the plant with crude oil in exchange for refined products to keep the plant running after Petroplus went bankrupt.
In Guiana, the Anglo-Dutch group, which has a 45 percent stake in the consortium with Total, Tullow Oil and Northpet, will have to wait for an “in-depth and general” study to be carried out into the issuing of all oil permits.
The Zaedyus oil basin, at a depth of 6,000 metres, could generate production of 300 million barrels of oil, “an opportunity for France to reduce its black gold imports and a godsend for Guiana, where unemployment is very high”, Le Monde cited Shell’s Romeo as saying.
“We saw Le Monde’s article this morning. That’s how we were informed; we were very surprised,” a spokesman for Shell said.
“This project is a major opportunity for France, we had the support of local authorities, everything was on track,” he added.
He declined to give a precise cost estimate for the delay, which Le Monde put at $1 million a day.
Environmental organisation Greenpeace welcomed the government’s decision, saying it should ban all onshore and offshore oil drilling and cancel the permits for good.