The cry of "there's gold in them thar hills" is a staple of the Western movie genre. For a variation on the theme, I recommend There Will Be Blood, starring our neighbour Daniel Day-Lewis. In that film the gold is black and the film is very dark. If you associate oil with France it is probably because there are extensive olive groves where they speak Langue d'Oc. But regular octane unleaded petrol has been abstracted from the rocks of France and the people of Forcelles-Saint-Gorgon in Lorraine have Pierre-Louis Maubeuge to thank for bringing their hamlet (pop 150) into the blazing limelight of The Blob.
tavern-tokens, the flora of Bhutan), deep knowledge is always fascinating. For Professor Maubeuge it was rocks and the invisible world beneath our feet. He became convinced by fossil ferns and other data that there might be exploitable oil beneath the soil in certain parts of Lorraine. His academic colleagues gave each other un drôle d’œil and snickered behind his back but he stubbornly persisted until he struck oil at the base of a hill in Forcelles-Saint-Gorgon. With some pals and anonymous local backers, Maubeuge founded the Société de Recherche et d’Exploitation du Pétrole en Lorraine (REPLOR) which did what it says on the tin. At its peak, 11 oil derricks were pumping 20,000 lt per day of light crude from the bedrock of North Eastern France. Between 1983 and 1999, something close to 14,000 tons of oil were abstracted for processing. At the pump yesterday I bought a tankful of petrol at €1.50/lt, so the total value of REPLOR's extracted product is somewhere north of €20 million, in today's money.
But it was an uphill struggle; in France the State owns the exploitable sub-surface mineral resources and REPLOR soon became mired in a sludge of bureaucratic and obstructive paperwork. No doubt the eminence gris of International Megacorp Oil was stalking the corridors of power in Nancy and Paris. It's all in his book Comme une odeur de pétrole. In 1999, shortly after floating another company PETROLOR to exploit a much larger reserve nearby, Pierre-Louis Maubeuge fell ill and died. He was 66. Without his drive and energy, the project stalled and there remains an estimated 70,000 tons of crude waiting for the call.