France is expected to start exploratory drilling in the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas by the end of this year, with the first well being ready by the summer.

A report from French oil company Total said it had started a feasibility study to explore offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and that France’s offshore exploration programme was expected to be launched this summer.

“We have already started work in the first phase of exploratory work and have also commenced preliminary work,” the French oil firm said in a statement.

It said the first drilling would be done off the coast of the French archipelago of Montserrat, a key area for the company.

It would then go on to drill deeper and further to the south, where it would tap into a deposit of natural gas, oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) that would be developed in France and exported to countries around the world.

The company said the drilling project was a “long-term project” and that “more than 30,000 square kilometres” of ocean would be explored.

Total said it hoped to have the first oil well drilled in the next few years, adding that the exploration and production of oil and gases would be “one of the most significant and complex projects in the history of France”.

French officials have long been concerned about the environmental impact of drilling on marine areas, and are already studying ways to reduce drilling activity.

Last year, the government announced it was moving towards more sustainable drilling methods, including using “divers” to extract the oil and other minerals.

In April, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged that France would make exploration a top priority in the 2020s.