(Flickr Gerard Stolk creative commons)
Total is the main French Petroleum company, one of the six most important in the world and the company who has the biggest turnover in France. They are not known for their commitment in sustainable energies, but have been involved in some controversies abroad. They are involved in some legal actions and they were named responsible the Erika’s oil slick.
“Total is primarily concerned with new sources of energy and we really wish to be involved with consideration of new developments,” said Total CEO Christophe de Margerie on 11th October. He went to explain that it was important to be able to give accurate messages and to be heard without being considered somehow “heretical” . Messages from the industry should serve three goals: security of provision; competitiveness; and respect for the environment. Security of provision must take into consideration the place that fossel fuel energy will in 15 years supply 76% of global energy demand, against 81% today. “Even with more gas supplies, petroleum will not be replaced.”
Today, it is no longer a question of “peak oil” but of access to new resources and capabilities. “This is one of the best messages we can give to young people and this sector has an absolutely extraordinary future”. Mr de Margerie went on to say that at present, there is no tolerance for non-mainstream views. He emphasised the importance of showing that energy sources are necessary and complementary and said that he was refusing “to enter a fight about what is the best energy.” “Let us accept the development of other kinds of technologies”, he said. “It is not a battle”.
Secondly, in the debate, the petroleum field and industry must be recognised as being remarkable globally,said Total’s boss. The third message involves unconventional hydrocarbons. “These will change the deals, especially geopolitically”.According to current estimates of the company, 50% of future gas resources will come from unconventional gas, the proportion being 30% for petrol. American people themselves are not conscious of the revolution in progress, he said, restricting their ambitions to becoming self-sufficient and independent from the Middle-East. Will the United States be always, in this context, as interested in remaining policemenof the region, he asked?
Finally, the fourth message, “ which is not acceptable at all”, he said, is that Total, unlike its counterparts, will not give up downstream processes to devote attention only to exploration and production activities.
However, Christophe de Margerie’s most important message to his peers was : “We have to change. We can get better. We have to express ourselves, to engage in dialogue”. Commenting on shale gas in France, he said that no way would Total be “the spearhead of a little stupid venture”. Each time the company speaks on this subject, the debate grows acrimonious, he notices. “We do not ask for anything, it is up to the responsible political and governmental authorities” to know what to do. He mentioned one regret, that during the ‘Grenelle III’ environment conference*, “Even the possibility of finding out whether France has shale gas was not permitted!”
But France is not the only country in which to pursue shale gas (Christophe de Margerie mentioned China, and said, in answer to questions, that Total will pursue its work in Poland despite dry wells) and shale gas is not the only source, referring to offshore conventional sources.
*Grenelle I and II were big meetings between political and environment actors in 2007 and 2010, during the Sarkozy’s regime, after which some measures were adopted. What Christophe de Margerie calls “Grenelle III” was the Environment conference held last September, under the new president François Hollande.