For a third time, the government has extended the exploration period allowed to the Galp-ENI consortium which has a concession for the Lavagante, Santola and Gamba areas off the Costa Vicentina natural park.
The request to extend the exploration period was approved by the Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, who clearly is worried that the consortium will take the government to court to recover costs if he did not sign.
The first test well is due to be drilled off Aljezur in May this year, to the consternation and opposition of the local council, other council areas potentially affected, environmental and tourism groups and tens of thousands of individuals who signed an anti-oil drilling petition.
Jorge Seguro Sanches justified his January 8th decision, on the grounds that the "request was supported by administrative and legal requirements" - referring to consultation with councils and the approval of a monitoring programme for vulnerable marine ecosystems and for cetaceans.
Seguro Sanches stated that he was acting in the public interest as three anti-oil court cases have been rejected (one from the Intermunicipal Community of the Algarve and two from Odemira council) and that in the last ten years "the concession has made investments of more than €76 million.”
The Ministry of Environment now has to authorise, or not, the oil consortium’s 2018 work plan for the Alentejo Basin which is conditional on the approval of an environmental impact assessment, something the ministry will not confirm it is to demand.
The consortium needs to present a copy of its insurance policy, and provide a guarantee of €20,375,500, something it has refused to do in the past.
In a letter sent to Jorge Seguro Sanches and the ministries of the economy and of the environment, Galp-ENI demands the "unconditional approval" of an extension and of its work plan and "official confirmation that an environmental impact assessment is not necessary, as according to Law 37/2017, the project meets all the necessary environmental requirements."
This demand is cheeky as parliament passed a resolution last December which ordered a suspension of hydrocarbon exploration pending public discussion and the conclusion of an environmental impact assessment.
Several environmental associations, which oppose oil and gas exploration and drilling, have demanded the cancellation of all Portugal’s onshore and offshore oil and gas concessions and contracts, calling on the Government to respect council opposition to the extension of the Galp-ENI exploration period and pointing out Portugal’s CO2 emission reduction target and the risk to the environment, fisheries and tourism inherent in a domestic oil business.
Environmental association, Zero, said the government's decision is "deeply regrettable and incomprehensible."
In a statement to newsrooms on Saturday evening, Zero stated that it “considered the government has lost in an absolutely regrettable and incomprehensible way a golden opportunity to cancel, once and for all, an investment that has risks for ecosystems, for the population, for the economy of the southwest Alentejo and Algarve, and that has the opposition of local authorities and local communities.”
“Above all, it goes completely contrary to the decisions announced by the Prime Minister in 2016 at the Climate Conference in Marrakesh and all the work that currently is being developed in the country to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”
As for the license renewal, “it is clear to us that the decision was a political one, claiming this is ‘in pursuit of the public interest.’
Zero now waits for the Ministry of the Environment to state its position and expects a politically coherent decision and a reaffirmation of the policy of decarbonization that Portugal has adopted.
The Movement for an Algarve Free of Petroleum stated that the exploration extension authorisation should be cancelled by Prime Minister António Costa and exhorted the President of the Republic to intercede with the PM to stop the opening of doors for oil companies in a tourist region of excellence so that the so that Algarve can be developed ‘sustainably.’
The movement pointed out that the government continues to ignore the objections of more than 40,000 citizens, a public consultation and the negative opinions of local councils.
This “reveals a profound lack of democratic culture in the Government currently in power which clearly prefers an alliance with the oil companies to the detriment of the preservation of the territory of the Algarve.”
MALP now expects the Ministry of the Environment to do its part in defending the environment from the interests, power and money of the oil companies.
In a press release received on Monday, January 22nd, the Movement went on to question the trust given by the Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, to the Galp-ENI consortium when it is known that the current President of GALP, Carlos Lopes da Silva is one of the accused in the case involving the handing out of free trips and tickets to overseas football matches to members of the government.
MALP considers that the awarding of the licence extension will increase citizens' distrust of politicians and will further erode the quality of Portuguese democracy.