Oil and Gas Exploration in Algarve: “A Luta Continua” – but it’s going to be a long and costly process. A status report by ASMAA's founder, Laurinda Seabra.
Yesterday (29 November 2016), ASMAA met with AMAL representatives - Jorge Botelho (AMAL President / Mayor of Tavira), José Amarelinho (AMAL Vice-President / Mayor of Aljezur), Miguel Relvas (AMAL Secretary), and AMAL legal team represented by João Vidal.
The meeting was fruitful and information was freely shared about past, present and future efforts to fight the proposed offshore and onshore oil and gas drilling projects planned for the Algarve.
The legal action taken by AMAL against the Portuguese government and the oil companies took centre stage in the discussion, and the current situation is as follows:
Portfuel onshore (Fracking) contracts for the Aljezur and Tavira region (+50% of Algarve - 14 Council areas)
AMAL lodged on 14 July 2016 with the Loulé court an injunction application against Portfuel and the Portuguese government requesting that the onshore drilling and exploration contracts be “rescinded” (in other words, declared “null and void”), based on various legal arguments – administrative, environmental and constitutional.
The initial application was rejected by the presiding judge based on what was in her opinion the lack of supportive evidence for the urgent application, but after resubmission of the application, the application was accepted, and the matter is now set-down for a hearing at a future date. (Expected to be soon, maybe within the next couple of weeks)
Based on the merits of the case, supported by what appears currently to be a “weak” legal defence of both Portfuel and the Portuguese government in this specific court action, it seems that there is a very strong case for the AMAL application to rescind the contracts to be granted.
But like with any legal process, anything can happen. But there is strong optimism.
In the event that the injunction application fails, then the next step will be to take the necessary steps to initiate standard legal proceedings and to lodge an application with the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice.
Galp / ENI consortium – offshore contracts in Alentejo Basin
Regarding the Galp/ENI contracts, AMAL also lodged on 14 July 2016 with the Loulé court an injunction application against them and the Portuguese government requesting that the offshore drilling and exploration contracts be “rescinded” (in other words, declared “null and void”), based on various legal arguments – administrative, environmental and constitutional.
After an initial assessment of the AMAL application and reply motions by the Galp/ENI consortium and the Portuguese government (more than 300 pages of supportive evidence submitted by the defendants), the presiding judge has informed AMAL legal team that the Loulé court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case, and as a result she has forwarded the case to the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice in Lisbon.
Unlike in the Portfuel matter, the defence team for the Galp/ENI consortium and the Portuguese government is made up of a team of legal experts from two of the top Portuguese legal firms.
As a result a fierce and prolonged legal battle is expected.
Over and above the AMAL injunction court application, the result of the DGRM public consultation process for the granting of a TUPEM licence has not been finalised yet.
The current status is as follows:
There where over 42,000 written objection submissions to the DGRM as part of the public consultation process
A petition to the Portuguese Parliament signed by nearly 27,000 people was submitted by ASMAA. The process is still ongoing with the latest development being a the receipt of a letter from the Parliament alleging that the oil exploration matter had been debated extensively already and as such they suggested we take that into account, but at the same time we were at liberty to provide further supportive information if we deemed justifiable. Which we did, by arguing that none of the Parliament debates that have taken place in the past dealt specifically with the Galp/ENI TUPEM application, instead in our opinion they were of a generalist stature and did not address the petitioners concerns. We submitted a 7-page reply letter a few weeks ago.
The DGRM has not as far as we are all aware submitted their recommendation report to the government.
We are aware that a meeting may have taken place between the Galp/ENI consortium and the DGRM on 3 November at the DGRM offices – (but we can’t confirm it, nor do we know what was its agenda, purpose or outcome).
Partex (Gulbenkian Foundation) / Repsol – offshore contracts in the Algarve Basin
Currently there are no legal actions taken against Partex/Repsol consortium, as it is too early to do so, but we have been advised to up the fight against offshore drilling as it is expected that the consortium will lodge a TUPEM application early in the new year with the intent to drill their first exploration well off Faro/Tavira sometime during the summer season.
WE HAVE TO TAKE ACTION BEFORE THEY APPLY ...
We need to take into account, that it is the first time in the history of Portugal that legal action has been taken against the oil industry and the Portuguese government regarding oil & gas exploration and exploitation contracts. As a result there is a lack of precedence legal cases. Whatever the result of the current legal action, the current legal court cases will become landmark cases and form the base and used in future legal proceedings in Portugal.
Currently, all the legal teams are using international and European law in their submissions, supported by expert written reports and findings.
Meaning, that the legal battle is not going to be an easy one, nor a cheap one, because neither the industry nor the government will want to see a win by the "people" ... the legal fight has just begin!
Although the local population and the anti-oil drilling movements have been assured of the full support of AMAL and most of the councils that are members, the bottom line is that we have to continue with our mobilisation efforts, we have to continue to inform the local population resident in the Algarve, inform the visitors and investors to our region. We have to up-the fight against the threats both offshore as well as onshore drilling.
We have a short window of opportunity ... next year there are municipal elections, a perfect motivator to our central government in Lisbon to do the right thing!
We can win this fight, but only if we all stand-up and shout "Not ONE Well" ... Not NOW, NOT in the Future! ("Nem UM Furo" - Nem Agora ... Nem NO Futuro!)
A luta continua! ...