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Shell says close to launch of test drilling off Guiana coast
by Staff Writers
Deauville, France (AFP) June 28, 2012

The Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell is making final preparations before beginning to drill exploration wells off the coast of French Guiana, its French subsidiary said here on Thursday.

"We are currently in a test phase. Security is the top priority for us," a Shell France spokeswoman told AFP on the sidelines of Enerpresse Forum, a conference organised in this Normandy coastal resort.

"We are testing equipment, materials and systems and we will only launch operations once we are satisfied with all those tests," she added.

Authorities in French Guiana, an overseas department, delivered permits last week which allow Shell to launch controversial offshore test drilling, and the group's forage vessel has arrived as planned off the coast.

The project was suspended after the new French administration took office earlier in June, as France began re-examining Shell's licences in Guiana owing to environmental concerns.

The Shell spokeswoman said on Thursday that drilling should begin shortly, but stressed that "you must never rush things" at the risk of undermining the operation's security.

Caribbean nations are wary of offshore oil exploration in light of an April 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that is widely acknowledged to be the worst environmental catastrophe in US history.

But a significant amount of crude oil has been identified off the coast of Guiana and Shell is leading a consortium that wants to determine if the deposit is economically viable.

Shell has a dominant stake of 45 percent in the consortium, which also includes the French oil group Total, Tullow Oil and Northpet Investments.

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