PARIS Total is looking for a partner to take a share of a shale gas exploration permit in southeast France after U.S. group Devon pulled out, the French energy company said on Friday.
Total said it could sell up to 50 percent of its permit, which covers a 4,300 kilometer square zone, to a new partner but that it would retain its operatorship.
French daily Les Echos said in its Friday edition the zone covered by the permit, obtained by Total in March 2010, could contain up to 2,380 billion cubic meters of gas, a number it obtained by multiplying the average gas level in the area by the surface area.
Recoverable rates for shale gas in the United States hover between 10 and 20 percent.
A U.S. boom in shale natural gas drilling has raised hopes that the country will be able to rely on the cleaner-burning fuel to meet future energy needs, but concerns about its impact on water quality could slow the industry's ability to tap this bountiful resource.
Shale gas projects in France have sparked controversy in recent weeks due to the possible impact on the environment caused by drilling techniques, which require vast amounts of water and detergent.
France, which in the 1970s produced one third of its gas consumption, imported 98 percent of the gas it consumed in 2009.
"Total has asked the authorities for the permit to be extended by 1,850 kilometers square," a Total spokesman said, without detailing the specific area.
"The first test drilling could take place at the start of 2012," the spokesman said, adding that the company had committed to carry out three test drillings by 2015.
"No production is conceivable before 2015," he said. "Beyond the technical and ecological validation, we need acceptability from the population," he added.
Total has two exploration permits for shale gas in Denmark and six in Argentina.
(Reporting by Muriel Boselli, editing by Jane Baird)