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New oil consultation law - will the government listen?

BeachMalhaoThe law that introduces mandatory 'prior consultation' with councils, in any municipal area covered by an oil exploration and extraction concession, was published today in Diário da República.

The document was signed off by President Marcelo de Sousa and now that it has been published, officially is in force.

"Any administrative proceeding concerning prospecting, exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons shall be preceded by a mandatory consultation with the municipalities in the respective areas," reads the edict.

If the concession is offshore, as in the urgent case for Aljezur council, the consultation will be carried out with the municipality on the nearest part of the coastline.

The law also makes it obligatory for the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology to publish councils’ comments and summaries on its website, thus allowing a degree of public access to people's views.

In March, the Government made a start to show it really cared about other people's views and informed the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology that mayors must be consulted in writing and that any reply should accompany the final proposal before granting a concession area to an energy company.

The law is a reaction to the vociferous protests from the Algarve and other areas such as Peniche, where local councils have not been consulted about oil concessions granted over their territories.

Laurinda Seabra, who leads the environmental pressure group, ASMAA, said that the new law does not give councils any more rights or powers than they had already and that the law is simply to enable Portugal’s pro-oil government to tick the ‘public consultation’ box should the Supreme Court, Court of Auditors or European Commission ever check up on future concession deals.

The State will still decide on the granting of oil licences, as it always has done, pushing through deals using the ‘public interest’ argument, whatever the public actually thinks.

The anti-oil uproar, that started in the Algarve and rapidly spread north, concerned concession contracts dished out to Repsol, ENI, Galp and Partex, among others, without public consultation. This triggered a memorable public meeting in Faro in early 2016.

The Algarve’s mayors already had decided that turning the Algarve's land and sea into an oil or gas production zone was hardly compatible with their tourism plans for the region, saying any oil industry will, "endanger the region's economy and does not justify the environmental and social damage caused to people and the economy of the Algarve."

On Tuesday, January 12th, 2016 the mayors’ group AMAL met several business and tourism associations and all agreed; oil is a big 'no-no' for a region which has spent decades building up a thriving tourism business based on clean beaches, beautiful countryside and clean air and water.

The public consultation in Faro was chaired by Paulo Carmona from the National Authority for the Fuel Market (ENMC) who several times threatened to halt the meeting if the audience of 250 highly motivated people did not settle down.

Carmona introduced six speakers from the various interested oil companies and claimed that if they find oil, "we will be rich" while failing to explain, under the licensing agreements in place, how this could happen as the royalty payments are set risibly low and allow oil companies to ‘recover all costs’ before starting to pay the State any dues.

This public consultation was a shambles with patronising presentations and a weak chairman yet still the concessions went ahead with a threat that GalpENI is to start drilling next Spring, 2018, off the Aljezur coast.

The message of ‘no oil in the Algarve’ has been ignored ever since and the likelihood of a council’s negative report affecting a new concession contract is laughable during the lifetime of this government.

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