On Wednesday, 24 September, Friends of the Earth France and Europe, accompanied by Sherpa, met the managing director of Total Austral, the Argentinian subsidiary of the French oil giant. This meeting followed the intervention of Friends of the Earth as well as an Argentinian civil society representative at Total’s General Meeting last May. They had questioned the group’s CEO, Christophe de Margerie, in front of thousands of shareholders. The meeting held at La Défense must not be an excuse for the company’s greenwashing. It was also an opportunity to reaffirm Friends of the Earth and their partners’ requests, i.e. the abandonment of unconventional hydrocarbon projects in Patagonia, starting with those located in the natural protected area of Auca Mahuida. Another meeting will be held at the end of October in Neuquén, Argentina.
Total, present in Argentina since 1978, is the country’s second-biggest gas operator. The company obtained shale gas licences for the famous “Vaca Muerta Formation” in 2010, before all other companies. Total highlights environmentally-friendly values. Nevertheless, behind its efforts lies an entirely different reality: failure to consult affected populations, lack of transparency with regards to information on the project, drilling in the natural protected area of Auca Mahuida, etc.
As the company has remained deaf to local populations’ claims in Argentina, it is in France, (through direct questioning at a General Assembly of shareholders in Paris) that Friends of the Earth and a representative of Argentinian civil society managed to make their voices heard by questioning directly Total’s CEO at the General Assembly of shareholders in Paris.
According to Juliette Renard, extractive industries campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, “the meeting with Total’s managers does not mean that we will start negotiating with them, and we will stick firmly to our demands. After almost a century of conventional exploitation of hydrocarbon resources, shale gas is a new malediction on Neuquén populations. Total pretends to be exemplary, but we are waiting for the company to finally take its responsibility.”
The reality that Friends of the Earth and their collaborators have seen in the field is very far from the promises of social and environmental responsibility made by the oil firm as well as from the economic development supposedly related to shale gas boom.
©Friends of the Earth – Shale gas exploitation by Total in Argentina
The security of projects and the associated environmental risks remain a major concern. Two months ago, Total lost a radioactive pellet in one of its wells, so it had to cement it. The company pretends to be responsible, but contrary to requirements related to this type of incident, it didn’t even notify provincial authorities. This suggests that even many other potentially more dangerous incidents might have happened.
Antoine Simon, campaigner for Friends of the Earth pointed out that, “the conditions under which Total is exploiting Argentinian shale gas must be an example for all. Disregarding local populations and basic environmental standards associated with the technological obstacles that these industries are facing today, is bound to lead to the same environmental and socio-economic disasters. We wished to meet the company’s leaders to confront them with their contradictions.”
Friends of the Earth France and Europe, as well as Sherpa, met the managing director of Total Austral – the Argentinian subsidiary of the French oil giant – on Wednesday, 24 September to make the group fulfil its responsibilities. Total claimed that “[the company] would not undertake any project if it might damage the environment.”
Yet, though the NGOs insisted on the already-existing harmful effects of Total projects and on the non-compliance of their impact studies, the company refused to commit to following the opinion of experts from the Department of Natural Protected Areas on the consequences of their activities. The big oil company is neither planning on consulting local populations nor on carrying out a serious impact study, as it should have done from the beginning.
Marie-Laure Guislain, head of litigation at Sherpa, noted that “unfortunately, this case shows the current impunity that prevails towards parent companies when their subsidiaries violate local populations’ rights or environmental law. It is time that liability law changes so that multinational companies as big as Total, which recover their subsidiaries’ profits abroad, are accountable for the damage they cause.”
The company only accepted one step: calling on CEDEA, a Boston-based NGO with which it works, to carry out a social study.
Friends of the Earth France and Europe, as well as Sherpa, expect much more from Total so that the big oil group puts an end to the damage it is currently causing, and prevents more from occurring.Last modified: 30 June 2015