‘Shock and disappointment’ have been expressed in no uncertain terms by the head of the anti-oil campaigning organisation ASMAA after it was discovered, late on Thursday January 26th, that the government's marine resource agency DGRM already has signed a highly controversial offshore drilling licence that allows Galp/ENI to start operations in the Alentejo basin.
This licence is seen as the key that opens the door to an offshore oil and gas industry and is vehemently opposed, not only by environmental organisations, but also by the Algarve region’s mayors and 42,000 signatories to an anti oil petition which has yet to be debated in parliament.
The government seems intent on Portugal becoming an oil industry, while it professes to adhere to the Paris agreement on CO2 emissions, with the outgoing head of the DGRM (Direcção Geral de Recursos Naturais, Segurança e Serviços Marítimos), Miguel Sequeira, signed the document anyway, just days before being replaced by José Simões. This was the same tactic as used by the outgoing Minister for the Environment, Jorge Moreira da Silva, when signing the original concession agreements, just days before leaving office. His 'climate change expertise' has ensured a snug job as Director General at the OECD.
ASMAA’s Laurinda Saebra says it is inconceivable that the Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino, was unaware of the DGRM's Miguel Sequeira act of duplicity which snubs parliament as well as the tens of thousands waiting for the petition to be debated by MPs.
This new licence is valid until January 2019 and gives the ENI/Galp consortium the right to drill a well in the deep offshore of the Alentejo Basin at any time, subject to a 10-day notice of intent.
Neither the Minister of the Sea, nor the DGRM have made any effort to respond to several legitimate requests for information about the petition submitted by ASMAA, opposing the granting of this licence.
Saebra said that this shows “a total lack of respect by the government to over 42,000 people that objected to this licence being granted,” adding that “This just reinforces the farce that was the so-called “Public Consultation” process during this TUPEM licence application.”
To add further suspicion to this already deeply suspect process, the terms and conditions of the licence give the GALP/ENI consortium exemption from paying the normal TUPEM licence fees. The consortium also has been exempted from paying a security deposit, and from providing proof of Civil Responsibility Insurance.
The concern now is that the outgoing head of the DGRM, Miguel Sequeira, was 'incentivised' to afford such leniency to a consortium that can hardly claim to be low on funds - he certainly was not doing his job in getting best value for the taxpayer and, like Paulo Carmona at the Entidade Nacional para o Mercado de Combustíveis (ENMC), may have gone native in sticking up for the oil companies rather than the nation's voters.
“Not only did the government ignore the wishes of the resident population, visitors, tourists and investors in the region, with the sweep of a pen it has just granted the rights to any area under Portuguese government control to any oil company that might want to drill in the future,” says Saebra whose campaigning to date has helped ensure the annulment off the Algarve onshore drilling licences awarded to Portfuel, signed under similarly controversial circumstances.
“For years, we have been urging the Portuguese government to stop all offshore and onshore drilling for oil and gas, we have been asking that the government instead focuses its energies on becoming the leading European country for renewable energies,” said Seabra on Thursday evening, citing, with due cause, “gross civil negligence of the government’s duty to the nation.”
“…we need to make our voice heard so that both the government and the oil companies know that when the public says ‘no’ to oil drilling we do indeed mean “no” and will use all the legal means at our disposal to let the government and the oil companies know, in no uncertain terms, that we mean business too.”
MPs will call the minister to account but the licence has been signed by a public servant, clearly working for the interests of the oil companies, who now has conveniently 'moved on', making the licence harder to revoke, even if it can be proved that that it was obtained corruptly.