Shell of French Guiana
Release # 3 – Volume 2
1 – On May 29, 2001, Christian Pierret, Secretary of State for Industry in Lionel Jospin’s government has granted Planet Oil Limited a permission for offshore drilling in French Maritime Guiana.
2 – On July 2nd, 2007, the license originally assigned to Planet Oil Limited was extended and given to Hardman Petroleum France by Jean-Louis Borloo, Minister of Ecology in François Fillon’s government.
3 –The operation was framed by two prefectoral decrees on January and March 2011 respectively. Then, from March to November, 2011: the primary exploratory drilling was accomplished. A peculiar situation : the prefect of French Guiana issued two security measures for evacuation of drilling platform when Kourou Space Center launched its first satellite because of the fear of a possible fallout on the drilling region.
4- On December 22, 2011, François Baroin, Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industry in Fillon’s governement signed a ministerial decree authorizing the extension and transfer of drilling for the profit of joint-companies; Hardman Petroleum France, Shell, and Total.
5- On March 20, 2012, Shell announced to the prefect of French Guiana its intention to carry out four more exploratory drilling.
However, Minister of Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, resigned, in order to become the official spokeswoman for presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 election. The case was thus transfered to be handled under the Department of Environment, Planning and Housing (DEAL) and the Regional Directorate of Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL) in Aquitaine – the cluster national competence for offshore drilling.
6 – At the end of April 2012, the team of the DREAL Aquitaine took off for Singapore in order to inspect the drill ship that Shell would use – the Stena IceMAX.
7- On May 11 and June 20, 2012, Shell was given an accelerated permission by the authorities through two prefectural orders, allowing it to start drilling and pursuing seismic activities (mining prospecting and evaluating of oil reserves by acoustic means of specialized vessles) faster than usual.
The complexity of administrative proceedings within the state services is oftenly criticized. But here must be acknowledged the eagerness and thoughtlessness displayed in making the Shell-Guyane case move forward, while the ecology minister’s seat remains vacant.
The False Stride of Shell off the coast of French Guiana
At the last minute, right before starting an ongoing search for oil, Shell claimed that decisive progress had been made in protecting the environment by applying new measures accompanying the work procedures. However, nothing has been done:
1) The claim that Shell is working on a study for reducing the ocean dumping of excavated materials by the late 2012.
In fact, studies in this direction have been conducted since 1999 by the OERR (Offshore Energy Environmental Research Association). In this context oil companies have already demonstrated that it was possible to bring back drilling waste to surface, provided the paiement of additional costs. For example, in a sensitive area abounding with groundfish, offshore Norway, the operator of exploratory drilling mobilized technical means for lifting drilling wastes and transporting them to the ground.
2) Follow-up studies of the benthos, which are marine organisms living in the bottom of the ocean, will be conducted during the four new drillings.
In fact, monitoring the benthic environment has been prescribed since the first exploration drilling in March 2011. An initial state report on the seabed around the drilling was carried out by photographic and video surveys of the seabed and a final statement was also made with the same resources. These surveys helped to complete the Environmental Impact Assessement Document (DAIE) about the planned drillings of 2012.
3) International standards will be applied on the threshold concentrations of toxic elements in drilling fluids.
In fact, these “standards” are set by oil companies, and are based on geological qualities of the underwater layers to drill, as their names indicate, the “standards” are not regulations. For exploratory drilling offshore French Guiana, the estimated dumping of persistent bioaccumulative heavy metals, and particularly mercury, is significant. The dispersion of toxic metals on the seabed is due to both geological characteristics of subsoil and the formulation of drilling fluids.
4) The observers’ being present aboard the seismic vessel Oceanic Phoenix is presented as an innovation.
In fact, guidelines to mitigate the impact of acoustic disturbance on marine mammals during seismic surveys have been implemented, for instance, since 1999 off California and since 2005 in Brazil. For this, spotters mobilized themselves onto exploration ships. The Oceanic Phoenix is flying the Norwegian bis flag. 4 deficiencies were identified during the last security check at Las Palmas in November 2011.
5) The people and the local economy will be associated with the development of offshore exploration and potential oil exploiting.
In fact, this process of public and local minorities’ participation was put forward by Shell in 2004 on the island of Sakhalin in the exploration and exploitation of a large oil and gas field. It has not prevented the NGO Sakhalin Environment Watch’s declaring that “Shell lies and conceals the truth, it misleads the public, destroys local infrastructures, and disrupts social ties.”