The Algarve’s mayors already have decided that turning the Algarve's land and sea into an oil or gas production zone is not compatible with their plans for the region. These focus on tourism, non-polluting and clean industries and renewable energy.
On Tuesday, January 12th the mayors’ group AMAL met several business and tourism associations and all agreed; oil is a no-no for a region which has spent decades building up a now thriving tourism business based on clean beaches, beautiful countryside and clean air and water.
If oil and gas exploration is allowed to continue on land or at sea, this will "endanger the region's economy and it does not justify the environmental and social damage caused to people and the economy of the Algarve."
The mayors and business association representatives: Vitor Neto (NERA), Daniel do Adro (AIHSA), Elidérico Viegas (AHETA), Carlos Luís (CEAL), Victor Guerreiro (ACRAL) and Steven Piedade (ANJE) have demanded the immediate halt of the of oil and gas exploration programme for the Algarve.
Tuesday January 12th also was the day that the government’s fuel body ENMC held its first public consultation in the Algarve.
The evening meeting at the Algarve University’s Health Education conference auditorium saw the entrance filled with banner-waving anti-oil protestors as 252 pre-registered members of the public arrived and took their seats, followed by dozens of unregistered delegates who filled the aisles.
The National Authority for the Fuel Market (ENMC) had scheduled the public meeting to clarify, for the benefit of the Algarve's great unwashed, its interpretation of the government’s position on hydrocarbon exploration and extraction in the region.
Paulo Carmona, the chairman of ENMC, also acting as chairman of the meeting, introduced the six speakers and claimed that Paul if they find oil, "we will be rich."
When the jeering, whistling and shouting had abated, the oil company representatives gave short presentations, largely about geology, all misreading the zeitgeist as the mood was not one that was happily going to accept pictures of rock formations.
The speakers came from the oil companies Repsol, ENI, Galp, Partex and Portfuel, and the talks centred on their employers’ safety record, the money some already had spend in surveying the offshore oil blocs, some basic geology and the low statistical probability of finding oil or gas, the long periods of time that would pass before anything would happen if they did find oil or gas and the mysterious benefits to the region should they be allowed to continue as they plan.
"Just look at Aberdeen" was the best that could be done in answer to a question on employment prospects for the region's workers with a rather weak estimate of "hundreds of jobs, even a thousand" failing to add weight to the economic argument for an oil industry in the region.
Occasional jeering continued during the presentations sparked by examples of ‘oil company speak when dealing with the natives,’ also when showing a picture of the pristine Algarve coastline and another of happy fisherwomen sitting in the sand (circa 1970).
The patronising stance continued through question time as the chairman chose not to answer many of the questions put to him, more concerned with fiddling with his mobile phone (see picture, below left) and talking rapidly and softly as if to get the meeting over with. Carmona's assurances that, should exploration turn to extraction, "there will be full Environmental Impact Sudies," assured nobody that that the oil process has started and is set to roll on unless stopped by citizens action, whatever his oft' quoted decree laws stated.
The questions generally were high octane with a member of one of the associations that earlier had met with the mayors, giving the agreed message that oil and gas exploration in the region is totally at odds with the long-term goals of those that live and work here.
Laurinda Seabra from ASMAA, well prepared with a printed list of 60 questions in English and Portuguese, marched up to the chairman's podium and hand-delivered the document amid clapping and cheering from a crowd that, far from being cowed by the expertise lined up to educate them, expressed coherently and passionately their various opinions and questions.
ENMC had kicked off the oil and gas exploration process in 2011 and this meeting in Faro was the first public consultation, some five years later, dispelling the myth that the government body is open and transparent, as it tries to portray itself.
Loulé mayor, Vítor Aleixo, gave a brief position statement, then asked of the onshore exploration contracts, ‘why was the deal signed in secret?’ This and many other questions failed to receive coherent or believable answers.
Chairman, Paulo Carmona said that the ENMC was “only an organ of government” as if this would excuse him from having to answer questions about secrecy, the contracts, safety concerns, the almost non-existent royalty rate, indemnity clauses, lack of consultation, fracking, water pollution, monitoring, liability, dispersants, contra-payments and many other aspects of this oil and gas business that in former years he might have got away with.
Whatever happens in the Algarve, bearing in mind that the exploration contracts already are signed and cannot be changed as that would break the contract conditions, the days of big government ignoring the people that voted them in, are threatened.
The discomfort of the salary men, wheeled in to placate Algarve residents by saying oil is a long way off from being extracted and a very safe process should it ever happen, was palpable and the intelligence and passion displayed by many delegates was impressive.
The move by Portugal’s government towards an oil and gas production model is late, unwanted and heading in the opposite direction to that agreed at the 2015 Paris Summit where the plan agreed was on developing renewable energy technology and switching from fossil fuels to sun, wind and wave power.
Repsol has spent USD53 million on surveying the seabed off the Algarve coastline in the search for oil and gas data.
Near the end of the four hour meeting, one delegate set the oil company representatives a challenge, “why not do something wonderful and put the same money and effort into renewable energy?”
Paulo Carmona at least may have discovered that money is not as important to others as it is to him. Also that his "we will all be rich" position statement possibly might show him as rather shallow and certanly not the best person to chair such a meeting.
For a SIC Noticias report on the public meeting, in Portuguese
and on RTP
The questions to the ENMC and its answers are on this link: