Whereas France owns the second largest exclusive economic zone in the world, hydrocarbon offshore drilling activities remain seldom within the territories under French jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this territory could potentially offer significant resources. Drilling prospects currently undertaken offshore French Guyana illustrates the interest shown by industry for this under investigated potential. The French administration regulates these activities with particular care for operations’ safety and environmental protection.
Neither exploration nor exploitation activities can start unless a licence and a work permit have been granted. Applications assessment procedure for licences and work permit at sea are incorporated into the French mining code, a dedicated law related to the exploration and the exploitation of the continental shelf (Loi n° 68-1181 du 30 décembre 1968) and another dedicated law related to the EEZ (Loi n°76-655 du 16 juillet 1976). Additional execution decrees related to licenses, work permits, work at sea and drilling provisions complete this legal framework.
While applications for work permit, such as drillings, are relatively limited, safety and environmental protection measures, as set prior to the commencement of work, are shaped on a case-by-case basis by the competent authority. These measures shall comply with minimum technical expectations and satisfy relevant goal setting objectives.
Beyond national technical specifications , the safety and environmental protection measures are sourced by the documents related to the planned operation which include impact assessment studies, report on major hazard and emergency planning studies. Once the work permit has been granted, the competent authority keep the power to require the operator to take complementary / additional actions necessary to preserve and protect environmental and safety stakes. On last resort, he has the power to suspend any operation whenever safety and environmental protection objectives are no longer met.
This setting, which favours dialogue and exchange of point of views, brings contributions from various administrative services and from the output of systematic public participation actions. It also relies on the technical expertise of public bodies on offshore hydrocarbons, including response to oil spills.
When regulating offshore activities the competent authority also rely on good practices as set in the framework of regional sea conventions to which France is party or as discussed in the framework of the “EU Offshore Authorities Group” established in 2012 by the European Commission in connection with the new directive 2013/30/EU on safety of offshore oil and gas operations.