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Algarve oil contracts committee of inquiry to recall former Environment Minister

moreiadasilvaThe committee of inquiry into the oil concession contracts, specifically the Portfuel contracts that cover the Algarve’s land mass, is to demand that the former Environment Minister Jorge Moreira da Silva (pictured) returns to explain certain misleading statements.

Today, the head of Portugal’s fuels authority Paulo Carmona made it crystal clear to the committee that concession contracts are for exploration and extraction of oil or gas found in any of the 17 blocs that are covered by the concessions, which include the two covering most of the Algarve.

The committee wants again to discuss the Algarve and the concession holder Portfuel: at issue will be the concession contracts signed last year just before the general election on October 4th.

Former Environment Minister, Jorge Moreira da Silva’s earlier statements on the scope of the contract with Portfuel, owned by local Algarve millionaire Sousa Cintra, led the committee erroneously to conclude that Portfuel was only allowed to undertake non-invasive geological surveys to see what types of rock layers lie beneath the surface of the Algarve in the concession areas.

Paulo Carmona said today that the contract with Portfuel, like all the other ones, is not only for geological mapping: "It is a prospection and exploitation contract," meaning that Portfuel is licensed to drill for and extract oil and gas.

MP Carlos Pereira said today that after the president of the National Organisation for the Fuel Market (ENMC) confirmed that these are not just prospection and research agreements, but also allow companies to pump oil or gas, he believes that there are strong reasons which justify the request to invite Moreira da Silva back to address the committee.

The ENMC boss Paulo Carmona stressed that the Portfuel contract, like the others, "has several phases of exploration, development, exploration and exploitation," and that "each of these stages does not depend on any State intervention from a political point of view, because there exists a contract entitling the company to progress through each stage of its work programme."

On April 28th in front of the same committee, the former minister, Moreira da Silva pointed out that the contract with Portfuel does not provide for production, but only exploration and research.

"I've tried here to explain several times that the agreement does not give a license to produce or exploit," said a smiling Moreira da Silva at the time, in error.

When questioned about Portfuel, Carmona said today that he saw no irregularities in the issuing of a license to Portfuel in September 2015.

With this concession agreement, the entrepreneur Sousa Cintra won the right to seek and extract oil and natural gas from three thousand square kilometres of land in the Algarve despite Portfuel having no employees and no expertise in this industry which should have precluded it from being considered.

As reported on RTP, the concession procedure was conducted by the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) who issued a negative opinion on Portfuel. But three months later, the Director General of the DGEG, Carlos Almeida, changed his mind enabling Jorge Moreira da Silva to sign off the deal to Portfuel’s benefit.

In addition to wanting to hear from Moreira da Silva again, its members also are to call the Director-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG), Carlos Almeida whose explanation for his complete and highly suspicious U-turn, will be interesting to hear.

Asked today about the ‘suitability’ of Portfuel, Paul Carmona commented that the ENMC just looks at and oversees contracts and its function is to see these contracts are met.

Fracking was discussed with Carmona saying that the technique is “terribly invasive" in environmental terms. He stressed that companies wanting to use this technology must submit environmental impact assessments, as required by law, and suggested that "It's very difficult to have a positive environmental impact assessment with fracking."

The Government thinks there are sound arguments to terminate the concession contract with Sousa Cintra’s Portfuel as the granting of a concession to a recently formed company with no experience is a "difficult situations to accept," according to Paulo Carmona, who cited delays from Portfuel in sending him a schedule, a work plan and the security that the contract required, as well a statement in lieu of an insurance contract certificate.

The Government already has requested an opinion from the Attorney General's Office on whether there was something amiss when Moreira da Silva signed off the oil concessions to Portfuel.

In the meantime, Prime Minister António Costa is keen to know what riches lie beneath the Algarve’s land: his official stance when questioned about oil and gas exploration.

The PM is well aware, as are the cast of characters in this drama, that the concession holders have the contracts in place to pump oil and gas.

The only thing that might stop them is a negative environmental impact assessment which is decided by the Minister for the Environment and subject to political pressure from oil companies that include offshore concession partner, Partex, owned 100% by the powerful Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation which has strong links with Portugal’s political and business elite.

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+2 #2 Deirdre 2016-05-19 10:18
Has Portugal not made any progress at all in equality between citizens since its parody of a Revolution 40 years ago? Does this secrecy and misinformation not make clear that the elite are still in an entirely different class, above the law ? Just as in Salazar's time ! It is crazy that the Portuguese MEP speaking last week on this subject said "There is nothing we in Brussells can do about this".

Surely this is one of the main drivers for Brexit - that countries that fail to govern themselves to European standards must be 'governed' from Brussels. It is pointless that EU countries agree regulations that direct certain behaviour - here public administration transparency - then,as so often in Portugal's case - ignore them!
+3 #1 Peter Booker 2016-05-19 08:36
So da Silva has given the oil industry what it wants; he has created a dust storm so that it is difficult for everyone else to determine what has happened; the new Prime Minister is happy. These things always happen around the time of a General Election, demonstrating that both parties are involved and both have an interest in disguising the truth.

I hope somebody is keeping an eye on da Silva´s bank account, since without a hefty inducement, he would not have acted in this way.

It was interesting to see that the UN had a look at him, and then decided he was not quite what they wanted.

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