MAP. Visualize where the oil extraction sites are in France



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The pump of an oil well in La Teste-de-Buch (Gironde), in February 2024. (HAUSER PATRICE / HEMIS.FR / HEMIS.FR)

The authorizations granted to oil well drilling projects in Gironde and the Paris Basin are relaunching the debate on the exploitation of hydrocarbons on French territory. However, these industries will be banned in France in 2040.

Two wells in Seine-et-Marne and eight in Gironde: for several months, the various drilling authorizations granted have rekindled the debate concerning the exploitation of French subsoil. In February 2024, the investigating commissioner in charge of the public inquiry into drilling projects in La Teste-de-Buch (Gironde) indeed issued a favorable opinion (PDF) with the opening of eight new wells.

As for Seine-et-Marne, the government signed a decree at the end of 2023 authorizing the extension of an oil site there, with two additional wells, the newspaper revealed on Sunday. Release.

Because even if its production remains very modest, France continues to extract oil from its subsoil. “But this represents less than 1% of what is consumed in France,” underlines Francis Perrin, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and energy specialist. Each year, 600,000 tonnes of oil equivalent come out of wells drilled in France.

In mainland France, 63 concessions

In total, at 1er april 2024, 63 concessions on French territory are thus granted by the State to oil companies, according to the Ministry of Energy Transition (PDF). Essentially, these sites are concentrated in the Paris Basin and Aquitaine, and to a marginal extent in Alsace. Seven research permits are also in progress.

For the most part, these sites have been known for several decades and are owned by groups like Geopetrol or Vermilion, much more modest than the giants Total or Exxon. “Nevertheless, for some of these small and medium-sized companies, France remains an interesting territory. And given the current level of oil prices, it remains profitable.” notes the researcher.

New drilling still possible only until 2040

But from 2040, these companies will be forced to stop exploiting these deposits, in order to respect the climate commitments made by France and thus hope to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. France has in fact voted in 2017 the Hulot law, “putting an end to research and exploitation of hydrocarbons” by 2040.

Since the passing of this law, France has also no longer granted new exploration or research permits for new deposits. On the other hand, exploration and exploitation permits granted before 2017 remain valid and can be extended. This therefore allows certain companies to undertake new drilling on currently active sites. “The State had made a commitment by granting permits. It could not go back on its word without exposing itself to legal risk,” notes Francis Perrin.

These modalities strongly taint the symbolic significance of this law, while oil still represents a third of primary energy consumption in France. The combustion of fossil fuels represents 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for global warming.

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