Oil in French Guiana: the applicants are getting impatient

10 Sep 2012

Shell has already digged the first four drilling wells for exploring offshore French Guiana. These operations took place, one might say, by the “old system.” The authorization process had been initiated by Jospin’s government in 2001 and then extended by Fillon’s government in 2011. In the press release, “The go-fast Shell” on July 9, 2012, Robin des Bois denounced the granting conditions of such authorizations. The regional committee of marine fisheries and mariculture in French Guiana has requested that the operations be suspended.

In mid of June 2012, the three ministers of overseas, ecology and productive recovery have stated that the new exploration and operating license will impose environmental guaranties that did not exist before. That’s as far as things got. Indeed, four new research permit applications have been filed by TOTAL, Wessex, Saturn, and Azimuth between July 2011 and May 2012, and are currently being examined. The request of Wessex and Saturn to the prefect of French Guiana for working with Shell, Total, and BP is significantly casual considering the importance of the application as it states: “Please find enclosed a complete copy of the Butterfly oil permit application for the Guyanese sea. (…) We hope to be granted this permit faster. “

Searching oil in marine subsoil requires air guns hauled by the exploratory drilling vessels. For several weeks, day and night, they fire air-gusts, regularly within intervals of a few seconds, which trigger seismic waves within water columns. The echo sound results are then analyzed by hydrophones. These sounds can be recorded up to 3000 km from the sound source. They radiate in both water and sediments.

How will the new system be?

The first research phase should take into account the seismic acoustic disturbances and the waves of compression that marine wildlife, shrimp and other invertebrates, fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals would endure. Special attention should be given to manatees and dolphins in French Guiana, as it is required by the new licenses for drilling near coastal waters and mangrove. Studies also show that fish eggs and larvae, when exposed to the hustle, bustle, and uproar of these machines underwater, are less viable and have a reduced growth. Underwater noises are recognized by the UN as a threat to marine biodiversity. Therefore, for the new system of permits granting for oil exploration offshore French Guiana and in all waters under French jurisdiction, the concerned ministries should usefully resort to the recommendations of the “Grenelle de la Mer” working group on marine mammals. (to read them; click on the attached link).

From now on, should be also taken into account the risks associated with exploratory drilling and operations resulting from the initial phase of seismic drillings, hence, in conditions that are similar to those offshore French Guiana, drilling operations of Chevron are suspended offshore Brazil.

The oil industry is pressing urgently. However, in harmony with the new government’s impulse, no new licenses shall be granted in waters under French jurisdiction until the modification process of granting rules for search, exploration, and operation licenses is complete. Noise pollution, pollution from drilling muds, chronic discharges of chemicals and oil during operation, and the adequacy of means mobilized in case of emergency incident or accident are key issues for Robin Des Bois.





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