THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP
An oil drilling site in the middle of the La Teste-de-Buch forest, in southwest France, photographed in July 2022.
ENVIRONMENT – Between the pines and ferns, around a hundred oil wells. This is the very particular contrast of the forest of La Teste-de-Buch, near Arcachon (Gironde). Exploited since 1964, it still has 50 active oil wells today, and the operating company, the Canadian group Vermilion Energy, is hopeful of digging eight more.
Especially since this Monday, November 20, after two months of analysis, the commissioner in charge of the public inquiry, Carole Ancla, issued a favorable opinion on the project. All that now remains is to obtain approval from the prefecture, and therefore from the State, to launch operations.
Before deciding, during the first half of 2024, the prefect is, however, still awaiting the opinion of DREAL and the departmental environment council. Afterwards, “it will be up to them to see if they are responsible or politically irresponsible”, declares to HuffPost Vital Baude, regional environmental advisor for Nouvelle-Aquitaine. The elected official calls on the government to freeze operations, in good faith for its promises on ecological planning.
Promises on the exit of hydrocarbons
“We will be the first major ecological nation to abandon fossil fuels”promised in July 2022 Élisabeth Borne, Prime Minister, responsible for ecological planning. To be more effective, Emmanuel Macron summed up at the beginning of last September at the microphone of Hugo Décrypte: “ I have a goal: end of coal by 2030, end of oil by 2040-2045.”
These announcements both echo the same law, adopted in 2017: the Hulot law on the French exit of hydrocarbons. The text prohibits the issuing of new hydrocarbon exploration permits and marks the end of current concessions by 2040.
A point that the office of the Minister of Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier Runacher, would like to emphasize to the HuffPost in the case of La Teste-de-Buch. He argues that this law indeed authorizes “the continuation of the exploitation and the extension in time or space of the concessions until 2040”. The ministry specifies, however, that the favorable opinion of the public inquiry does not constitute “by no means a decision”.
An opinion that dismisses the question of climate change
The notice in question, a 7-page document, however, provides all the necessary keys to the prefect to authorize the eight new drillings. He first rules out the “legitimate public concerns regarding the major issues linked to greenhouse gas emissions” of his argument.
No less than 98 contributions were submitted by residents, still very marked by the mega-fires which ravaged 7,000 hectares of this same forest in the summer of 2022. Since then, floods, drought, violent winds, and risks of submersion on the coast. More frequent and more intense events due to climate change, caused by the production of greenhouse gases and in particular the exploitation of oil.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP
Staff from the National Forestry Office (ONF) inspect the La Teste-de-Buch forest, affected by the mega-fires of summer 2022.
“While I share the concerns expressed in the public contributions, I have tried to ignore general considerations on the future of oil extraction in France”, tempers the investigating commissioner. The heart of the file therefore focuses on the local impact of the project. In this context “no local resident has reported any serious malfunction or major nuisance linked to the operation of the Cazaux concession”.
Moreover, “the impacts generated by the drilling work will be temporary and short-lived”, ensures the public inquiry. The Cazaux site has two major reservoirs, “ at a depth of 3,000 m and 2,200 m,” according to Vermilion Energy. But “the study of the file shows that the Vermilion company sought to limit the environmental impacts of the project by excluding certain pre-selected platforms”assures the investigating commissioner.
Last but not least: the oil produced in La Teste-de-Buch is French, so it has a “lower” environmental cost than that produced abroad, points out the investigating commissioner. French oil “subject to restrictive environmental regulations and numerous controls, seems preferable in the short and medium term to the extent that today we cannot completely do without fossil fuels”she then concludes.
Lines that make Vital Baude jump, for whom to exploit these resources in the short term “has nothing strategic”. “It is much more interesting to leave them in the ground for future generations who will choose to exploit them or not according to their needs,” he believes. A remark which particularly resonates as the Constitutional Council recognized a few weeks ago the right of future generations to live in a healthy environment, in the context of a completely different matter: that of the burial of radioactive waste in Bure .
The chosen one finally breathes: “This exploitation benefits no one, except Vermillon Energy’s turnover.” However, the dealer assures on its site: “We are firmly convinced that to be successful, a company must prioritize its employees and the environment, rather than its own profit.”
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