Some of Europe’s largest oil producers, including Shell and Total, were given permission to begin drilling at four different sites around the coast of French Guiana in South America; however these plans were thrown into doubt at the beginning of June when Nicole Bricq, the newly appointed French environment minister, announced that she was suspending all drilling permits because in their current form they do not take “into account environmental problems.”
Francios Hollande’s new socialist government wanted to revise the outdated French mining code, which governs drilling issues, because it barely considers the environment.
The move was a surprise to the oil companies and received many angry responses.
Unfortunately, in a move that could be considered as a sign of weakness from the newly elected leader, Nicole Bricq has been removed from her post and given the job of minister for foreign trade, whilst the government backtracked on plans to suspend the permits, once again allowing drilling projects in Guiana to proceed.
Le Monde, the French national newspaper, led a front page story questioning the environmental commitment of Hollande, and the leader of the French Green Party (EELV), Pascal Durand, commented that if Bricq “really left because of the exploration in Guiana. If it’s the case, it’s very serious.” He is worried that it could prove to be “a very bad signal” from the government to the environmental community “and society as a whole”.
Cécile Duflot, the former Green party leader, is now one of Hollandes green ministers and has stated that Bricq does not see her job change as a result of pressure from oil companies, but rather a promotion to a better position. Duflot does not believe there is any link between the suspension of the permits and Bricqs change of job.