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New law 'marks and end to Algarve oil and gas exploration,' says Aljezur mayor

octopus2The mayor of Aljezur is calling it a victory against oil exploration, claiming that Thursday, August 3rd, was "a particularly happy day" because Portugal’s president has signed the new law that provides for local councils to be 'consulted in the administrative procedures concerning oil exploration.'

Mayor José Amarelinho believes that this decision is "another victory" for all those who oppose the proposed oil and gas industry in the Algarve region. In his optimistic opinion, despite local mayors’ views not being binding, Amarelinho believes that a negative local opinion "will not be overruled by any Government."

As the Intermunicipal Community of the Algarve, AMAL, already has all the Algarve’s mayors grouped together to oppose local oil and gas exploration, Amarelinho reckons this is enough for the major oil companies to pack up and quit the remaining concession areas that divide up the region’s southern and western coasts.

As for the Aljezur offshore exploration plans announced by the Galp-ENI consortium, scheduling a Spring 2018 test well drilling programme, Amareninho says the consortium has passed a key deadline and now, according to the document signed by the President of the Republic, the local council also will be asked for its opinion, which will be negative.

José Amarelinho is convinced that the Galp-ENI test well will no longer be drilled despite Galp’s chief sticking to his Spring 2018 work programme.

Further north, onshore between Lisbon and Oporto, the oil company Oracle Energy has announced a vast concession area on its website:

“The Direcção Geral de Energia e Geologia, an agency of the Portuguese Ministry of Economy and Employment, has awarded Oracle Energy the Barreiro oil and gas concession in Portugal's southern Lusitanian Basin. The new concession is 95% onshore and covers an area of approximately 211,275 acres in size (855 sq km). Terms of the concession provide for an initial exploration period of 8 years that expires on January 31st, 2021.

“Over the past five years there has been renewed interest in oil and gas in Portugal both on and offshore. Seismic and drilling has confirmed the existence of two onshore petroleum systems and three significant exploration plays: the Triassic Pre-salt, a Liassic (Lower Jurassic) unconventional resource play and Upper Jurassic reefs. In addition, Portugal is relatively unexplored, has excellent fiscal terms and has ready access to premium European markets.”

This concession appears to have been awarded in 2013 yet only now has been announced.

As the concession was awarded before the creation of ENMC, it seems never to have been published on the ENMC’s website despite it covering 855km2 of land. This will be of deep concern to populations in the council areas affected with the prospect of fracking, ever-present.

Laurinda Seabra from the anti-oil campaign association ASMAA, commented that the new legislation that aims to involve mayors in the decision making process is simply another whitewash as the law gives mayors “no more powers than they already have.”

“It’s an attempt to bullshit the population,” says Seabra, who sees the move as part of a pre-election campaign to defuse the oil and gas question in the Algarve and other of Portugal’s regions that are affected by the government’s drive to create an oil-based industry.

What is as clear as crystal is the government's continuing desire to facilitate the big oil companies exploration and drilling plans while keeping the public in the dark as much as possible. far from acting on the public's behalf, the Direcção Geral de Energia e Geologia is acting like an in-house advisory service to the oil insustry.

This game of cat-and-mouse does disservice to the idea that Portugal is an open and accountable democracy, with successive governments star-struck with the idea of dealing with the big energy companies and handling the boundless wealth flowing from oil royalties to support lavish State spending.

Portugal's golden age was based on the exploitation of respurces found in overseas countries, with incredible wealth effortlessly sailing up the Tagus to support a monarchy, court and upper class whose idea of work was chosing what to have for lunch. This experience appears to remain a sought-after ideal with the EU currently providing the free cash input.

The oil and gas royalty deals so far struck have been at the lower end of unacceptable and questions remain as to the range of incentives on offer to those public servants who signed concession agreements that certainly were not "in the best interests of the taxpayer."

Amarelinho's optimism soon will be put to the test as we await a full explanation of the Oracle Energy concession and why nobody knew anything about it until this weekend.