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Algarve mayors demand that oil contracts are torn up

frackingRigA delegation representing the Algarve’s 16 municipalities, yesterday met the Secretary of State for Energy to demand that the contracts signed by the State and oil companies that enable oil and gas exploration on land and offshore in the Algarve, are torn up.

The message was clear, the Algarve’s mayors do not want this region to become an oil or gas production zone when decades of effort have gone into making it an internationally recognised tourist zone.

The Algarve's mayors for once are united in a cause, "The exploration of oil and natural gas, on land and at sea in the Algarve impacts the territory of 14 of the region’s 16 municipalities," said the vice president of the Algarve mayors group AMAL, José Amarelinho, who also is the mayor of Aljezur.

AMAL’s president, Jorge Botelho, who also is the mayor of Tavira attended the meeting, his council area being threatened by the onshore exploration plans of Portfuel owned by the businessman Sousa Cintra.

Despite the good news that seven open and pending tenders for exploration and extraction have been cancelled, the Algarve mayors have demanded more action from the new socialist prime minister.

"António Costa said in Parliament that the five contracts in force (Repsol, Eni, Galp, Partex and Portfuel) are to continue, but he still has a choice. He can suspend them immediately and can simply cancel the onshore contracts," said the mayor of Aljezur.

Encouragingly, the Secretary of State for Energy, Artur Trindade, said that he would go away and study the oil contracts, which he had inherited from the previous administration, to see what could be done and to "understand the implications of cancellation."

While in Lisbon, AMAL representatives met also with André Silva, the MP from People, Animals, Nature who has challenged the prime minister on the subject of oil and gas in the Algarve in a recent parliamentary question.

The National Authority for the Fuel Market has made much of the fact that the oil companies are still surveying their exploration blocks and if there is oil or natural gas, there must be an Environmental Impact Assessment and a public consultation.

The Authority says that if the inhabitants and mayors of the Algarve reject the oil or gas extraction plans and if the public protests, then the drilling "does not advance to the extraction stage."oilrig

This, in the real world, is unlikely to happen the government will be faced with a glowing set of environmental reports paid for by oil companies insistent on recovering the tens of millions they already have spent in the exploratory phase.

The government will be extremely unlikely to say ‘no’ and will pass the extraction applications "in the public interest."

As is the norm in Portuguese government, political influence also will come into play from the Gulbenkian Foundation, 100% owner of Partex Oil and Gas which rather unpatriotically is based in the Cayman Islands, which has an historic and unhealthy closeness with government.

The right strings inevitably will be pulled if there is any question that the oil companies are not to get what they want. 

The Passos Coelho government decided that no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) were needed for the offshore or onshore exploration phases, especially surprising for onshore, and always had intended to say ‘yes’ when asked to authorise extraction. The government has changed but the new Prime Minister also seems bewitched by Big Oil's silky promises of jobs and riches.

Had the State ever been concerned about the environmental impacts of a local oil or gas industry, it would have demanded EIAs before test wells were drilled, or earlier at the surveying stage.

The Algarve’s mayors understand this all too well and are saying ‘no’ now, before the first exploratory well is drilled by Partex, scheduled for this Autumn.

Echoing the public reaction, the onshore contracts awarded to Portfuel (without even the pretence of a public tender) was the last straw for the mayors who were incensed that they had not been consulted about the handing over of the rights to their council areas.

Then came the fear of Portufuel using hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking, which rightly has raised huge concerns locally as people are aware of the damage this blunt technology has caused in other oil and gas producing countries.

Contamination of underground water supplies seems almost guaranteed as a mixture of water and chemicals injected at high pressure finds its way into subterranean reservoirs.

The National Authority for the Fuel Market states that although exploration by fracking is covered in the Portfuel contract, this is a "very remote possibility." Nobody believes this as the onshore geology may well make fracking the best economic option, but certainly not the best environmental one.

For the offshore contracts, the Algarve mayors say these “should be suspended and evaluated."

Either way, on land or at sea, by conventional drilling or by fracking, the Algarve mayors as one are representing a majority of their constituents in rejecting the entire oil and gas plan.

"Any gain that the State might have, or even the population, does not compensate us for the environmental damage," says the mayor of Aljezur.

Rui André, the mayor of Monchique, says he and the local population are against the plan and will try at all costs stop the drilling.

The government remains determined to allow the oil concession holders to carry on their work, “just to find out what’s there.”

In the light of the recent climate change agreement in Paris to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels, the fact Portugal is setting out to become an oil producing nation is seen by increasing numbers as perverse, ill-timed, and ecologically and economically unsound in the Algarve, an area which is dependent on tourism.

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-3 #5 JB 2016-01-31 09:30
In response to the article about oil drilling off the Algarve, a very large oil rig has appeared two days ago off the coast from Tavira, looking forward to more tremours.
+1 #4 Simon 2016-01-28 14:03
The really crazy part is the Algarve could be 100% Solar powered that would damage nothing and if produced from floating arrays would improve water quality, save millions of gallons from evaporation and not take up any land use. Why is this not happening?
-1 #3 ChristineBrody 2016-01-28 08:59
I probably represent those who have not only visited for many many years but now have even great grandchidren building lives with the Eastern Algarveas very much part. I home educated my two youngest chidren in the Eastern Algarve and believe me it shows. This is a ridiculous proposition narrow and fraught with many many faults. I have written longer to others concerned with this travesty but NO it is a disaster even opening it for debate. If you build it they will come and all the prospectors with them.
-1 #2 Mutley 2016-01-27 20:08
It is not an easy choice Tom, if you lose the side pickings.
+3 #1 angrytom 2016-01-27 18:54
The choice for receiving 10 Eurocent, yes 10 Cent per barril, or millions of tourists per Year seems very easy to me.

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