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Local elections - candidates duck oil and gas question

oilgungeDespite the Algarve’s mayors’ group AMAL declaring its opposition to oil and gas exploration and drilling, on and offshore along the Algarve’s coastline, few have been brave enough to respond to one simple 'yes or no' question put to them by environmental groups – for or against?

At a time when the anti-oil and gas question should be a key issue in the local elections, the subject is being swept deftly under various council carpets by most candidates, keen to follow party lines on ‘the economy of the sea,’ a wide-ranging subject that generally is positive but which is being used to disguise oil and gas exploration, and sub-sea mining for minerals.

In São Brás de Alportel and Monchique, precisely none of the candidates said they were against Galp, Repsol and ENI’s ambitions to find oil or gas in the region, according to data from the Free Municipalities from Oil and Gas campaign.

Taking the councils responsible for Portugal’s coastline from north to south, only a quarter have pledged their support despite a sizeable percentage of the public expressing views to the contrary.

The campaign was set up by 18 local and national environmental organisations, that contacted 261 candidates from the various parties vying for election in 5 municipalities (58).

ASMAA one of the key players behind the project was actively involved in the Algarve and Alentejo and went one step further by targeting 137 candidates vying for positions in municipalities as well as the many freguesias that will be affected by oil and gas exploration.

Despite the impossibility of getting hold of a full list of contact details from the National Election Commission, around 80% of candidates were contacted to ask their political stance on the oil and gas matter.

The result is that 81 candidates from 44 municipalities signed an anti-oil commitment.

The Left Bloc and PAN candidates all are against the government’s plans for a hydrocarbon extraction industry in Portugal, as are four rebel Socialist Party mayors in the Algarve: José Amarelinho in Aljezur, Francisco Martins in Lagoa, Vítor Aleixo and Jorge Botelho in Tavira whose political futures will have been downgraded by party chiefs but who at least have represented their constituents.

Mayor Rogério ‘U-turn’ Bacalhau in Faro also signed the pledge, aware of the huge gas field to the south of his municipality.

The campaign results can be seen on the map at autarquiaslivresdepetroleo.pt which voters can use to find out which of their local candidates have had the guts to state their policy.

The organisations involved in this information campaign say they are “committed to continue fighting against oil exploration in Portugal until all concession contracts in the country have been canceled and the necessary process of decarbonisation of the Portuguese economy is complete.”

Laurinda Seabra, from the environmental pressure group, ASMAA, said the reason that candidates are ducking the oil and gas exploration issue is to preserve their political careers, “you just have to look at how MPs vote along party lines in parliament when it comes to the ‘economy of the sea.’ Local candidates will follow their party’s policy, so many of them have avoided the question at local level despite the oil and gas exploration concession being widely opposed by locals.”