A French court has rejected an urgent request by environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to deny oil and gas major Total permission to proceed with plans to drill off the coast of French Guyana.

The environmental groups asked the court in December to suspend Total’s permit to drill five wells in the block over environmental concerns.

The court said there was no need for an urgent ruling, which would have come in time to halt the drilling operations.

Greenpeace said that although the ruling on the urgent request was disappointing, the group was hopeful that it could still stop the drilling operation by another means.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have filed a separate court application to annul Total's exploration permit in offshore French Guyana, it said, adding that the groups will keep up pressure on the company's projects in the region.

Total welcomed the court’s decision and said the drilling operation was ongoing.

“The campaign launched in mid-December will therefore continue with the objective of drilling the exploration wells,” Total said.

Drilling offshore Guyana is part of 23 drilling projects Total aims to carry out in 2019 in its biggest oil exploration drive in recent years.

Total said in December that a drilling vessel was on the site to start drilling, and it invited activists to visit the site saying it was taking measures to protect the environment and would not endanger coral reefs in the region.