Total CEO Seeks Shale Gas E&P Consensus
If Total wins its legal appeal over a permit repealed in 2011 he will meet French authorities to try to find a common ground on shale gas exploration, the CEO Patrick Pouyanné said in a French radio interview January 19.
The French major might regain the Montelimar permit by the end of January, depending on the outcome of a court case that has not just sparked an outcry among green activists – anti-fracking groups call for a protest on February 28 – but also brought the shale gas debate back into national news.
He was asked about the legal case and the potential consequences for shale gas exploration in France during an interview on Europe 1. He said Total would not use hydraulic fracturing, which was banned in 2011. “I have no desire to force through on this issue nor to slip in through the back door. If the national community does not support shale gas explorations, we will not do it. I am ready to seek a consensus which is needed on this very issue. The administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise will rule on a legal matter, then I will discuss with French authorities to see if we can find a consensus”, he said.
He was also asked to respond to the re-affirmation on January 12 by Ségolène Royal, France’s energy minister, that “fracking remains banned.” Royal even went further, arguing that no new exploration permits should be awarded in the future.
Pouyanné said it might be possible to explore shale gas resources without hydraulic fracturing of the rock. “We conducted in Denmark, a so-called green country, exploration without using the hydraulic fracturing. Unfortunately, it turned out that we did not find the significant amount of resources so we dropped it,” Pouyanné added.
Total exploration activities in Denmark did not came without challenges. The oil and gas company faced local oppositions and one of the drilling projects was suspended in May, 2015 because Total used a unauthorized chemical product with a potential negative impact on the environment according to Danish public broadcaster DR.
Economic and political impacts
He raised the economic aspect of exploring and the impact of oil prices on the decision making process. “There is a lively debate on whether France should develop its non-conventional resources but first we need to have a better understanding of our reserves. But to get there, we need a consensus within the country. I have no plan to invest money in a project that would be badly perceived by French people especially giving the current oil prices,” he said.
Many French politicians mainly on the left remain strongly opposed to shale gas developments though the right is more open to shale gas explorations. Major right-wing candidates running for president are all in favor of exploration. French voters are split on the issue. According to a CSA survey released in October 2014, 44% of responders were opposed to shale gas developments, 44% supported the idea but under certain conditions. 31% said at that time they could see themselves supporting shale gas developments if other European countries were doing the same. The poll was conducted as former French president Nicolas Sarkozy returned to politics while embracing shale gas developments as a growth opportunity.
Pouyanné made no secret during the interview that the state of the market had impacted Total’s businesses badly but he ruled out cutting the work-force. UK major BP announced on January 12 a massive layoff plan, including 4,000 jobs cuts. “Jobs can’t be an adjustment variable because I will need all of my employees to do their jobs when oil prices will go up again. I don’t know when it will happen but will happen”, Pouyanné said.