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Oil licence debate scheduled in Parliament - how will Algarve MPs vote?

parliamentPortugalPortugal’s MPs today are scheduled to debate a proposal from the Left Bloc and PAN (People Animals Nature) which, if approved, will call a halt to new oil and gas exploration concessions and licences in Portugal.

The proposal will be voted on on Thursday after a full debate in the parliamentary session.

“Now let’s hope that there is strong enough political will to make it happen,” comments ASMAA’s Laurinda Seabra who has released a timely update, ‘The Galp-ENI oil drilling bureaucracy saga ... or when bureaucracy works in favour of the people,’ looking at the status quo of the Galp-ENI consortium’s drilling plans:

With Galp guaranteeing, "a safe, sustainable operation that does not impact the population or the environment," Laurinda Seabra writes: “Most of us are very familiar with Portuguese bureaucracy, what we are not used to it is when bureaucracy is applied to the big boys, and especially to Big Oil.

Personally, I don’t think those at Galp-ENI are used to it either, I guess some of their ‘lobbying heads’ may be on the block for chopping, especially when things appeared to be running so smoothly, as everything seemed to be just a matter of being rubber-stamped right from the word go - you need to go back to April 2016. (click here)

Here are details of the offshore bureaucratic process that the Galp-ENI consortium has had to contend with:

After the TUPEM licence was granted on the January 11, 2017, the operator had only 30 working days in which to submit a cetacean-monitoring program (PMOC), if it intended drilling this year - meaning that the deadline, if it acted swiftly, would be February 22.

According to our information, the consortium did indeed submit such a document, which according to various sources is now being analysed by the Nature Conservation Institute (ICNF) at the request of the General Directorate of Natural Resources (DGRM).

The ICNF had 10 working days to give its opinion and approval, failing which the drilling operation cannot commence.

In addition, during offshore drilling operations, the Galp-ENI consortium has to employ two cetaceous specialists to monitor the safety of cetaceous, and to provide the specialists with the necessary acoustic monitoring equipment. These specialists in turn, will report to the appointed maritime authority on a weekly basis, which in turn will forward reports to ICNF for monitoring and record keeping.

And, as if above was not enough, the Galp-ENI consortium also had to submit an environmental monitoring plan about vulnerable ecosystems.

This plan has to specify how the consortium will measure the environmental impact of produced water* and its impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems. (click here)

Once again, 30 working days and another 10 working days for joint approval, this time by the DGRM and the IPMA.

Now, it appears that the Galp/ENI consortium had all the intent of drilling this year. For the consortium to comply with its initial intent, it would have delivered the documentation by no later than February the 22nd (30 working days after the date of issue of the TUPEM licence).

This would be followed by another 10 working days required by the various government bodies, bringing it to March 9. And only after this date would the Galp-ENI consortium be in a position to notify the DGRM of its intention to drill within 10 working days - meaning that from the March 19 the consortium could have technically been in a position to drill.

Many other factors have delayed the drilling:

  • ASMAA’s petition, an integral part of the public consultation process, has not yet been debated in parliament - 42,000 objections have not been discussed satisfactorily.
  • ASMAA also lodged a request for an investigation with the attorney general and the auditor general. These matters have not yet been concluded.
  • Odemira council submitted an injunction which has been accepted by the courts and awaits judgement. (click here)

It is clear that a smörgåsbord of issues has led to major delays and has prevented the Galp-ENI consortium meeting its targets this year.

But because the TUPEM licence fails to be clear about the consequence of delays in meeting deadlines, the consortium has until January 2019 to act. The licence further states that the term of operation may last 60 days - and the timeline may be continuous or with breaks in between.

Now, all that that us mere mortals are waiting for is for the courts to assess all the evidence and give an award in favour of the people instead of the consortium, which would see the cancellation of this TUPEM licence outright.

In the meantime, while bureaucracy takes its course, we can safely say that we seriously doubt that Galp-ENI will drill its first offshore exploration well this year. Should the courts award in favour of the consortium, we may have to face the risk that it will try again in 2018, or even in 2019.

For now … there’s not much more we can do, except wait and trust that justice will prevail."

Laurinda Seabra, ASMAA May 9, 2017

Whatever happens in today’s debate and vote, it will give us key indicators for our anti-oil drilling campaign during the upcoming municipal elections in all affected council areas in Portugal.

The vote will highlight the party line that its candidates probably will follow in the future, especially when the election period is over.

It is our intention to hold all candidates accountable for their positionon 'oil and gas drilling' and to force this issue into the public arena in the run-up to the local elections as one of the critical issues facing local communities. It is an opportunity for individual voices to be heard.

If you live in the Algarve or Alentejo, and have registered to vote in the autumn council elections, what happens in Parliament topday will guide you in selecting the right candidate for your vote.

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* Produced water: is composed of a complex mixture of inorganic (dissolved salts, trace metals, suspended particles) and organic (dispersed and dissolved hydrocarbons, organic acids) compounds, and in many cases, residual chemical additives (e.g. scale and corrosion inhibitors) that are added into the hydrocarbon production process.

Produced water in association with crude oil drilling is by far the largest waste stream in most oil fields, accounting for up to 95% of total wastes.