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PALP's statement on Aljezur oil drilling 'green light'

oilrigOn behalf of 'Plataforma Algarve Livre de Petróleo' (PALP) and four other entities involved in the Fossil Free Movement in the Algarve and Portugal, we would like to share the press release prepared this week, writes the environmental group.

"We express disbelief and outrage at the decision of the Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA) to not subject the offshore drilling project near Aljezur to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The Portuguese government authorities/bodies repeatedly ignore/disregard the constant protests/objections and questions by citizens, claiming (even though it has nothing to do with) “public interest”. Is it possible that government entities continue to ignore the repeated challenges and questions of citizens, claiming a "public interest" that has nothing public? By exercising a discretionary power, which has clearly favoured the interests of the consortium ENI/Galp, putting at risk the interests of the region and the populations, the Portuguese Government demonstrated yesterday that it is complicit with the oil companies. Furthermore, the Government chooses to defend the private interest, in detriment to the public public, in a clear demonstration of collusion.

Therefore, this shameful and unjustified decision by the Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA, “Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente”) that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will not be necessary to carry out an oil exploration borehole 46km off Aljezur, and may reach 3km deep in the seabed. This decision was issued despite the public consultation that ended on the 16th of April, when several thousand people expressed their support for the decision (to carry out an EIA).

In a customary lack of transparency, the APA states in its technical statement (Opinion, “parecer”) that it requested Opinions from nine government entities, including some responsible for maintaining and managing the country's good environmental status, but does not mention the content of these Opinions. We demand access to these Opinions (“pareceres”) of public interest.

It should be noted that facts mentioned in the responses of citizens and/or organizations have been ignored. For example, the information that the location of the drill area overlaps the red coral distribution zone (Corallium rubrum; Linnaeus, 1758), as described by Boavida et al. (2016), there is no mention of the presence of a rare and vulnerable species on our coast which is listed in two international conventions (Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and Habitats Directive of the Natura 2000 network) and the extension regarding the designated Site of Community Importance (SCI) in the Southwest Coast which is based on the scientific results of the LIFE Project MARPRO2.

Thus, we do not understand how such facts, among so many listed in the responses to the Public Consultation, are deliberately omitted. Furthermore, it is difficult to apprehend how the APA can affirm that "the concerns expressed in public consultation were mainly regarding the exploitation of hydrocarbons", when there were hundreds - if not thousands - of responses that focused solely on the impacts of prospecting (“prospeção”).

APA recognizing "all of the Opinions are in favour of an Environmental Impact Assessment procedure of the project under analysis", and being a governmental body that must defend the environment and represent citizens, it is hard to understand the outcome of the public consultation and decision not to subject the project in question to an Environmental Impact Assessment.

According to APA, "in view of the foregoing, it is concluded that the project is not likely to cause significant negative impacts, so that, under the terms of the law, it does not require an Environmental Impact Assessment." We are surprised with this circular and dogmatic explanation, in which it is concluded that there are no negative impacts before they are evaluated, especially when in the replies to the Consultation, many studies were presented that point out that even the search for oil (exploration or prospecting, “prospeção”) phase has negative and permanent impacts in the environment. All of the information that argued in favour of an EIA was consecutively and persistently ignored and discarded.

We ask all citizens, including jurists and journalists, to continue the resistance and insist on obtaining answers and clarifications (which we have the right to know) about this process that threatens the Algarve and Alentejo regions and its activities, health and experiences (that define it)!

We recall that this situation is not recent: despite the forty-two thousand objections raised by citizens in the Public Consultation regarding the offshore exploratory survey on the south western Portuguese coast, the Government issued an Oil and/or Gas Exploration Title (TUPEM) in a region of high seismic risk, epicentre of the two largest earthquakes in the country. Although the association of the municipalities of the Algarve filed a “providência cautelar” (embargo / injunction) in defence of the region, the suspensive effect of any work being carried out was removed by the Ministries of the Sea and of the Economy, evoking the license that the Government issued as a basis for this decision (“Resolução Fundamentada” Article 128-1 of the CPTA, “Código de Processo nos Tribunais Administrativos”).
 
A second “providencia cautelar” (injunction) filed by the Municipality of Odemira also had its suspension (restriction/embargo) lifted, with the work in the area being once again authorized and without any plausible justification that demonstrates truly "public interest" with the continuation of work. A third providencia cautelar, submitted by PALP (“Plataforma Algarve Livre de Petróleo”), questioned the issuance of the Title of Use of the Maritime Space ("Título de Utilização do Espaço Marítimo”, TUPEM).
 
This appeal also saw its suspensive effect dismissed by the Ministries of the Sea and Economy. It should be noted: the dismissal of the effect of the “providências cautelares” are not subject to the approval of a judge. We ask the Government: how can the Government decide impartially in cases in which it is the entity being "judged"? Since some of these court cases are still taking place - and none of them have yet been entitled to a public and fair hearing - this can become one of the greatest violations of democracy that we have been witnessing!
 
The work thus allowed by these appeals have served both as justification for the extension of the contracts (which would otherwise be terminated) as well as the sums which the companies had invested. We ask: what interest do the public have in an activity that endangers all the activities of the region and its very existence, in how it is defined and characterized? Whereas, on the contrary, with all these enforcement actions there is a consistent defence of the interests of the exploiter, above the interests of the community and above the risks associated with this activity.
 
Finally, when the law allows these risks and impacts to be assessed, and inclusively requires evaluation when projects are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, then APA comes again and still questions the public whether or not there is a need for such an assessment, although it has already been carried out, having received 42 000 objections to this same operation. All this merely so that this week APA ignored these same objections and announced that after all there is no need for an EIA.
 
As if all of this were not enough, we still have the issue of climate change and the imperative need recognized by the international scientific community to maintain global warming (at least!) below 2 °C, as decided in the Paris Agreement, which Portugal has ratified. For this to happen, it is necessary that around 80% of all known oil, gas and coal reserves are not to be used (#KeepItInTheGround). What the Galp/ENI consortium intends to do on the Algarve and Alentejo coast is to look for more unfeasible (and should remain untouched) reserves, at a time when the national Government announced a commitment for Portugal to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and an extensive study is underway to gain a better understanding in order to achieve this goal.
 
According to APA, between 15th of September 2018 and 15th of January 2019 the exploratory entity may start the drilling operations, under the condition that it notifies the Government fifteen days in advance. The ship designated for this operation 'Saipem 12000' is currently off the island of Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, therefore within a short distance from the survey site.
 
We also recall that it was during the drilling phase that the Gulf of Mexico enormous spills on the Deepwater Horizon platform, whose devastating effects persist for years, with serious loss to the fish communities, birds and population with the exodus and abandonment of the region.
 
It is all too obvious that it will be up to the citizens to demand the safeguard of their fundamental rights and of the law in the defence of their own interests, so that the Government understands the meaning of “public interest”, under the Portuguese constitution, contrary to the granting of the sea to the private interests.
 
We will continue with the aim to complete the final closure of this chapter of hydrocarbons exploitation in Portugal (cancel all existing contracts and prevent new contracts!). Thus, we call on all citizens to come forward, to stand up against the fossil fuel industry and defend the environmental, social, economic and cultural heritage (and reach a sustainable development).
 
Portugal, 17th of April 2018
 
Key dates | summary:
July 2016 - Comunidade Intermunicipal do Algarve (AMAL) submitted a “providência cautelar” in defense of the region.
 
September 2016 - Minister of the Sea promotes the sale of new concessions for the exploitation of oil and gas, contrary to the international agreements signed by the Portuguese Government to reduce greenhouse gases, directly linked to fossil fuels, namely oil, coal and gas (see video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p9YaOvrVa8).
 
11th January, 2017 - Despite the 42,000 objections raised by citizens to this same exploratory survey (“sondagem”, drilling) off Aljezur, the government issued a TUPEM so that the ENI/Galp concessionaire could drill offshore for oil and gas prospecting.
 
May 2017 - Odemira City Council has filed a court injunction (providencia cautelar) and is accepted by the court.
 
April 2017 – Municipality of Odemira saw the suspensive effect of its “providencia cautelar” lifted by the Ministries of Economy and of the Sea, which invokes the license issued by the Government itself.
 
May 2017 - PALP submitted a “providencia cautelar” with the support of the money raised during a crowdfunding campaign.
 
June 2017 - The Ministries of Economy and of the Sea issue a “Resolução Fundamentada” (Article 128-1 of the CPTA) to lift the suspensivey effect of the injunction submitted by PALP taking into account the "public interest" of the work carried out by ENI/Galp concessionaires.
 
October 2017 - The Secretary of State for Energy extends contracts by evoking the TUPEM license and does not accept the “providencias cautelares” (which are still in court proceedings). Thus the “Resolução Fundamentada”, which was not publicly known, served as an excuse for the extension of contracts (which would otherwise end) on the grounds of 'public interest'.
 
March 2018 - The existence of the “Resolução Fundamentada” is disclosed in a document issued by the concessionaire. PALP demands disclosure of the document and informs the court.
 
March-April 2018 – Public Consultation by APA to decide if an environmental impact assessment for the offshore drilling near Aljezur is necessary.
Currently - The procedures of PALP´s “providencia cautelar” continue in the court of Loulé
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