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Environment Minister might as well be working for the oil companies

oilgungePortugal’s Minister for the Environment, João Matos Fernandes, fully supported the government’s pro-oil stance, at meeting of the Parliamentary Environment Committee, during which he trotted out the agreed government's nonsensical mantra that it ‘only wants to find out what resources are out there.’

Fernandes was accused by MPs of giving in to economic interests. He stated that, "If the country wants to be independent of energy from abroad," the Galp-ENI drilling programme will go ahead.

When the mis-match between the government’s internationally agreed CO2 reduction targets and its overt support of oil exploration on and offshore, Fernandes retorted that, "zero carbon does not mean zero oil."

In the minister’s opinion, "knowing that we will have to use oil, we will have to decide whether we want to be independent or whether we think all oil should be imported, because there will be those who think there are risks that only other countries should run."

João Matos Fernandes defended the economic benefits of oil exploration in the sea, 46 kilometres off the Costa Vicentina, and continued to refer to any oil deposits as being owned by Portugal when the economic reality is that they are licensed to an oil consortium which, if it chooses to sell output to Portugal, has no contractual reason to do so at anything other than the international barrel price.

The Left Bloc MP, Pedro Soares, who was chairing the committee, said that it is clear that the government wants to see oil exploration go ahead off the Algarve coastline taking into account the need “to reduce dependence on the external market,” he too missing the point over pricing.

The Left Bloc called the meeting after the Portuguese Environment Agency, under the Ministry of the Environment, licensed Galp-ENI to start drilling without having to submit an environmental impact study.

The Left Bloc questioned this shock decision, "despite all the indicators that advise to the contrary, despite the democratic participation of activists, citizens and mayors, and despite all scientific and empirical warnings."

The Portuguese Environment Agency justified its decision to allow the oil consortium to start its test drilling programme as "significant negative impacts" has not been identified.

Pedro Matos Fernandes said he was "comfortable" with the "technical decision" of the APA, reiterating that it is an "administrative decision."

Facing the minister's pro-oil arguments, MP from the Green Party, Heloísa Apolónia, accused him of being weak and questioned why the government needs an Environment Ministry.

In response, Pedro Matos Fernandes admitted that there had been a political decision to uphold the 2007 contract, adding that there will be no further drilling authorisations before the end of the government’s current term of office.

It is clear that the Environment Minister has no intention of protecting Portugal’s environment and remains intent on using political decisions, technical decisions and administrative decisions to support the government’s pro-oil stance.

The environmental impact assessment process will be required by law if the Galp-ENI consortium discovers oil in quantities and wants to start pumping but with Fernandes clearly able to get the result he wants from the Agency that marches to his tune, campaigners expect the extraction licence to be grated whatever the environmental dangers.

The big question is, why is the government risking the Algarve’s primary industry, tourism, on which much of the nation’s current economic success is founded?

Any oil or gas found underneath Portuguese waters and sold to the mainland processing industry, will be bought in at the international price, the miserable deal on royalties will produce only a trickle ‘after all costs have been covered,’ oil and gas use is declining in power generation worldwide and Portugal is the best placed country in Europe for renewable energy production due to its abundance of wind, waves and sunshine.

A reader posting on the website of anti-oil association, Palp's, stated, "I honestly do not know where we are get these people who govern us, nor do I know what kind of selection process is carried out in terms of basic personal capabilities for the positions they are offered.

"But one thing is clear to me. Competence, transparency and intellectual honesty are not part this man's characteristics.

"Let him quit, because it is increasingly clear whom he serves. And it is not the one who pays his salary ... "


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