Total ‘Irritated’ by French Shale Concerns Amid Drilling Freeze

Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie said French concerns about domestic shale oil and gas exploration that led the government to halt drilling until at least the middle of April are premature.

“The day there is proof that there is something to develop, something to explore then we can talk about problems of water injection, injection of some products used to fracture,” de Margerie said at a press conference today on fourth-quarter earnings. “My irritation comes from people being told we are going to ruin their homes and forests when in fact there is nothing.”

The French government yesterday announced a drilling moratorium for shale oil and gas exploration projects until at least mid-April when the first conclusions of a report on the economic, social and environmental implications will be published. The Energy Ministry had already awarded exploration permits to companies searching for oil in shale rock around Paris and shale gas in southern regions.

Environmental groups have said drilling risks contaminating the water supply because chemicals are used when blasting shale to extract oil and gas, a method that has also met opposition in the U.S. Total holds the southern French Montelima permit.

“We don’t even know whether there is shale gas in France,” de Margerie said. “When we look at a map of the world, France isn’t considered the most attractive country for it.”

Schuepbach Energy LLC is planning to drill two wells in October to search for shale gas while Total has plans for a first well at the start of 2012, Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Industry Minister Eric Besson said in a joint statement late yesterday.

Toreador Resources Corp. planned to start in March the first of three wells at the Chateau Thierry permit outside Paris to explore for shale oil while Vermilion Energy Inc. was planning to fracture shale rock in three existing wells this month, according to the ministers.

Toreador shares have dropped about 21 percent since trading began in Paris in December.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at tpatel2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net

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