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Oil companies knew that 42,000 signature 'anti-drilling' petition would be ignored by pro-oil government

8570On January 26th, environmental organisation ASMAA discovered that the Direção-Geral de Recursos Naturais, Segurança e Serviços Marítimos (DGRM) has signed a licence for the Galp-ENI consortium on January 11, 2017 to drill in the Alentejo Basin.

In August last year, 42,295 people signed a petition to oppose this drilling permit for a 1,000 metre well in the ocean off Aljezur. This was all part of the public consultation process, 4 people were in favour of this licence being granted.

The government then had 30 days within which to give an opinion.

150 days later, it was discovered, but not on the DGRM website, that the Government had authorised concession holders GALP-ENI to carry out drilling with only ten days notice anytime before 2019 for a hole between 2,500m and 3,000m deep. Also, it has exempted the concession holders from providing any liability insurance and from lodging any collateral payment. 

In May 2016, the concessionaire GALP-ENI, before the public consultation had opened to discuss the authorisation of the drilling, hired MedServ which set up in the Port of Sines to support the offshore drilling process.

MedServ publicly announce that it had won an ENI tender to provide logistical support for offshore drilling, before any drilling licence had been awarded. This announcement by MedServ was on May 26, 2016 when the public consultation only opened 4 days later, on May 30th.

The 2016 public consultation showed that public opposition was overwhelming (42,295 against 4 in favor). Added to this result from the public was opposition from all the councils in the Algarve which, via mayors' association AMAL, took out a court action to stop the drilling.

It was later learned that all parish councils belonging to the Natural Park of the Southwest Alentejo and the Costa Vicentina opposed the drilling.

The Directorate-General has never spoken about the consultation, so humiliating was the opposition to its plans.

Those who participated in the public consultation have never received a response.

There have been no answers to the questions raised in the consultation process.

There has been no report on the public consultation process.

Even today, there is nothing on the DG's website.

Another relevant issue was the expiry of the ENI-GALP concession agreement. Last year, 2016, was the ninth year since the signing of the contract in 2007 by then-minister, Manuel Pinho.

The concessionaire had to conduct a further survey which it has not done, thus breaching its contract - enough for the government to rescind the licence.

It was necessary to search the website of the Plano de Situação do Ordenamento do Espaço Marítimo Nacional to find the authorisation, signed on 11 January 2017, by the then Director-General Miguel Sequeira (who rather conveniently, left office 11 days later), which allows ENI and GALP to drill in the seabed between the Algarve and the Alentejo, up to 3,000 metres - far in excess of the original 1,000 metres. 

In addition, Miguel Sequeira has exempted these lucky oil companies from having to lodge a bond or, remarkably, to provide liability insurance – the very reason used to strip Portfuel of its two concession licences in the Algarve.

The saddening and unaviodable conclusion is that the public consultation process was a con.

The expressed opinions of tens of thousands of people, organisations, municipalities and public institutions simply have been ignored. There has been no response to the petition and a licence has been approved under circumstances that at the very least are dubious, at the worst, criminal.

The concession holders clearly knew that any opposition would be swept aside by a government intent on saying one thing about democracy and the environment, while bowing to 'big oil’ and callously disregarding public opinion.

By appointing MedServ before the consultation had even started, the concession holders knew the game was in the bag. MedServ has been in Sines since 2016, preparing support services, bringing in equipment and ensuring the heliport was extended.

Those in positions of power, whose ample salaries and benefits are paid from the public purse and that cynically have abused their status and failed to do their jobs with integrity, include the DGRM’s Miguel Sequeira: Paula Vitorino, Minister of the Sea: José Matos Fernandes, Environment Minister: Jorge Seguro Sanches: Secretary of State of Energy, and António Costa, Portugal’s Prime Minister whose responses in parliament on Friday to Catarina Martins of the left Bloc were uncharacteristically feeble, misleading and patronising.

The people listed above have offered no excuse for what they have done.

This is the old style of Portuguese politics, everyone hiding behind someone else when questions are asked. This no longer is acceptable in a supposedly modern Portugal.

Ignoring the overwhelming will of the people will rebound hard on the Socialist Party, especially in those coastal council areas affected by oil exploration and exposed to the unnecessary risk of pollution.

42,000 'against' and 4 'in favour' is as overwhelming a result as has ever been witnessed in a public consultation - yet this is the result that simply has been ignored, the questions raised remain unanswered and a drilling licence sneakily has been signed off by Miguel Sequeira, notice of which was carefully hidden on a little used government website in the hope nobody would notice.