Vermilion Paris Basin Permit Extension Fans Fracking Debate
With the background of discussions re-emerging about the possibility of drillings for shale gas and shale oil in France post-national elections, the French Government has signed a decree allowing a one year extension of an exclusive drilling license in Saint-Just-en-Brie, a small town located about 80 km (50 miles) south east of Paris.
Vermilion Energy Inc., the top oil producer in France can prospect for “liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons” usually known as conventional gas and oil in a 300 km2 area (about 115 square miles) until January 6th 2016. The Canadian based company asked for a renewal to conduct its drilling operations which were cancelled in 2011 when an anti-fracking law was passed.
In the official document sent to the government in July 2013, Vermilion mentioned “the events surrounding the hydraulic fracturing bill” and “the possibility of demonstrations” to explain the delay.
Vermilion’s “unconventional” intentions?
At that time, in February 2011, French authorities and oil and gas companies agreed on postponing the drillings. 64 permits including Saint Just en Brie were postponed and 3 licenses were repealed. Environmental activists, assuming gas companies will press for development of unconventional resources not just traditional hydrocarbons, fear the latest decision will clear the path for an overall renewal of licenses. Vermilion holds 70,000 hectares in an area with potential shale gas.
Vermilion has pledged to not use the fracking technique in its drilling activities according to a letter sent to the government in September 2011. “We are not going to use hydraulic fracturing in any of our exploration drillings regarding the license of Saint-Just-en-Brie”.
Nevertheless, Vermilion may have used hydraulic fracturing in the past. The National Assembly commission on sustainable development made clear in a 2011 report that Saint-Just-en-Brie was the only license mentioning the willing to use hydraulic fracturing in the drilling operations. Another report requested by then Prime Minister François Fillon under the Sarkozy administration, emphasizes Vermilion’s plan “to do some drilling tests on bedrocks using hydraulic fracturing and conduct a drilling exploration work though fracturing under the license of Saint Just en Brie”.
Vermilion fracked 15 times on French soil
Hydraulic fracturing has been used 45 times in France since the 1980s including 15 drillings by Vermillion.
“We have conducted 15 drilling operations between 2002 and 2010 to grow the production rates of our conventional oil wells”, Jean-Pascal Simard says, Vermilion Public Relations director for Europe. The controversial technique was used for unconventional resources only twice since the implementation of a 2010 experimental program. More importantly, vertical boreholes were developed which is safer and less impactful on the environment. Local activists and the congressional report recognized this assessment. “We drilled into two oil wells with the hydraulic fracturing technique to break the source rock. One of the well gaves us tens of non-conventional barrels every day”, Simard adds.
Vermilion Energy Inc is France's top oil producer with 9,000 barrels produced every year on 20 leases and 450 wells. Last year, the Canadian company drilled 8 wells across the country and is planning to increase this total in 2015. Vermilion has just launched a four-well drilling program in the Champotran field located in the Paris basin as well as a 18-well workover program.
The French Senate recently rejected an amendment to the energy bill allowing shale gas exploration which could have overturned a ban on fracking voted in place in 2011.