Total SA chief executive officer Christophe de Margerie says the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico shows that it is time for the world's major oil companies to work together to develop better technology and practices for preventing pollution.
Speaking at the Conference of Montreal on Monday, Mr. Margerie said, "It is the right time, even though we are competitors, to forget about the wild competition and get the majors, the big companies, working hand in hand, not just as friends, but as partners."
Mr. Margerie, who runs Europe's third-largest oil company, said he and his competitors should join forces on issues such as "high tech" and "how to fight against pollution" as oil exploration becomes more difficult and more dangerous.
"We can always be better," Mr. Margerie said.
The head of Total, which is based just outside Paris and has interests in Alberta's oil sands, was slated to headline a discussion on the likelihood of a future oil-price shock. But with crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, staining marshes and beaches in spots along more than 160 kilometres of coast from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle, Mr. Margerie made no attempt to duck issues that were obviously of more pressing concern.
Mr. Margerie said he knew the day that the BP PLC rig exploded, killing 11 workers, that the spill would be difficult to control. He said it is possible that regulation of exploration and drilling in the Gulf was too easy, and that tighter rules are inevitable. Still, he cautioned governments to recognize that stricter control of energy production will mean less energy.
"You have to accept that less production will be available," he said, adding that smaller producers would be the first hurt by tougher rules.
Mr. Margerie said his point was not to dodge the need to take greater care of the environment. He said the oil industry must be more careful and spend more money as it pushes into more difficult and new areas such as deep sea drilling and shale gas production. But he said policy makers must remember that oil and gas fuel the economy.
"At the end of the day we need to produce oil, not at any price, but we need to produce," Mr. Margerie said.