Environmental campaigners have said that French fossil fuel giant Total should not be allowed to take part in the UK’s fledgling fracking industry until the reasons behind a major gas leak at one of its platforms in the North Sea have been established.
It was announced last week that Total is to become the first major oil company to invest in the UK’s shale gas industry.
The company is expected to invest at least $21m (£12.7m), having agreed a deal for a 40% stake in two shale gas exploration licences in Lincolnshire.
However, Greenpeace campaigners have expressed concern over the company’s safety record, pointing to the major gas leak that occurred at its platform in the Elgin field in 2012.
They say that Total should not be allowed to frack in the UK until the findings of a Health and Safety Executive investigation into the incident are known.
Greenpeace also note that Total were fined by a crown court in 2010 over a fire at the Buncefield oil storage depot in Hertfordshire.
“In his rush to get fracking, David Cameron appears to have acted with indecent haste in welcoming Total’s decision to enter the UK shale gas market,” Greenpeace climate change campaigner Lawrence Carter told the Guardian.
“Local residents in Lincolnshire, where they want to frack, will rightly be worried about the safety of their communities until Total are given a clean bill of health.”
A company spokesperson responded to Greenpeace’s argument, saying “We believe Total is well positioned to offer its experience and expertise, both in terms of exploration and production but also in the application of best health and safety and environmental practice. We see no reason why that should damage our reputation.”
Total’s list of past controversies also include alleged involvement in bribery cases in Malta, Iran, and Italy, as well as a 400km oil spill in 1998 and an explosion at a chemical plant in 2001 in Toulouse, which caused 29 deaths.
Environmental campaigners again criticised the government’s relationship with the shale gas industry last week after a freedom of information request revealed a series of emails between officials and industry representatives.
Some of the emails reveal that officials shared prepared statements with the industry, advising on “lines to take” prior to the publication of a review by Public Health England on the possible chemical effects of radioactive and chemical pollutants. One such line said, “We are confident that there is robust and appropriate regulation in the UK to ensure safe operations that minimise impacts to human health.”
They also revealed that officials hosted dinners for industry representatives, with “further discussion over post-dinner drinks”.