Dentons advises Total on first major UK shale agreement

Dentons has advised French energy giant Total on becoming the first oil company to invest in Britain’s nascent shale sector.

Environment partners Danielle Beggs and Sam Boileau led on the $1.6m acquisition of a 40 per cent interest in two shale gas exploration licences in the UK, announced on Monday. The licences hand the company rights to explore an area of 240 km2  in the Gainsborough Trough area of the East Midlands.

Senior energy associate John Stockdale and planning associate Roy Pinnock also worked on the farm-out agreement while the energy giants involved took on the work in-house.

The deal marks the first major company to break into the UK shale market following the boom in the US. Fracking is a contentious issue in the UK but ministers argue it is responsible for vastly reduced gas prices in America. The process, involving drilling deep underground to blast open rock with a mixture of sand, water and chemicals has been condemned by environmentalists as dangerous and polluting to groundwater.

Dentons was the only external firm to advise on the deal which sees it join five existing partners in the owernship of licences. Following the signing of the farm-out agreement, GP Energy (a subsidiary of Dart Energy Europe), will take a 17.5% share, UK-listed Egdon Resources UK Ltd 14.5%, and IGas Ltd will retain 14.5 per cent stake.  US company eCorp Oil will also keep a 13.5% stake. 

IGas will be the operator of the initial exploration programme with Total subsequently taking over.

The energy company is a longstanding client of Dentons. The firm advised Total on its acquisition of ExxonMobil’s downstream assets in 14 African countries back in 2005.

It has also made several recent energy hires, adding Watson Farley & Williams partner Charles July to its London office this month and bolstered its Paris energy team in December through the hire of Ramin Hariri and Vincent Lacombe, two partners from France’s largest law firm, FIDAL (4 December 2013).

The additions marked an effort to shore up its Francophone Africa energy strategy following a string of exits from the firm. 

Total has also experienced recent changes to its legal team. Longstanding Total general counsel Peter Herbel stood down in October to be replaced by oilfield services heavyweight Maarten Scholten  (23 October 2013).