French Government Grants New Oil Exploration Permits in the Run-Up to the Climate Summit

by Maxime Combes

French Ministers of the Environment and the Economy, Ségolène Royal and Emmanuel Macron, have just granted three new exploration permits for liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. These permits relate to exploration areas in the Seine-et-Marne (Paris region) and in districts of the Lower Rhine and Marne (Eastern France). The ministers have also extended two other fossil fuel permits until the end of 2018, in Moselle (Eastern France) and off the island of Juan de Nova, in the “French Southern and Antarctic Territories”, between Madagascar and Mozambique. The five executive orders were all issued on September 21st [1]. This marks a clear policy shift for the French government, which had hitherto restrained from granting too many oil licenses.

Canadian oil company Vermilion Energy was awarded the Champfolie permit in Seine-et-Marne, as an extension to its Chaunoy concession, already one of the largest-developed oil deposits in the Ile-de-France region. Vermilion is ultimately counting on a softening of the 2011 legislation prohibiting the use of hydraulic fracturing in France. “We hope to demonstrate that this technique is respectful of the rules established by the French administration and of the environment,” declared Vermilion. The “Bleue Lorraine” permit, for its part, will allow European Gas Limited, a company based in the Lorraine region of France, to continue with its coal-bed methane operations – coal-bed methane, also known as coal seam gas, is a gas present in the depths of old coal mines. Extracting this gas requires the use of hydraulic fracturing and generates significant pollution, as evidenced in Australia.

The French government has also extended an offshore exploration license for deep-water hydrocarbons off the Juan de Nova island, in the heart of the Mozambique Channel and surrounded by a large coral reef. The Scattered Islands, of which Juan de Nova is part, have been a source of diplomatic conflict between France and Madagascar, and should have been returned to Madagascar after it gained independence on June 26, 1960. Deemed to have rich fossil fuel reserves, and located on the so-called “oil highway”, these islands are coveted by multinational oil companies, but the environmental consequences of fossil fuel development could prove dramatic.

Climatologists have called on world leaders to freeze any new development of oil, gas and coal reserves. A few days ago, before the UN General Assembly, Francois Hollande asked all Governments and Heads of State: “Is humanity capable of making the decision to preserve life on the planet?” and stressed that, if the next climate conference in Paris does not deliver a strong international agreement, “it will be too late for the world”. It appears that his own government failed to grasp the message.

Maxime Combes