Environment Agency delays Australis onshore drilling plans

AustralisLogoA report from media independent, Apenas Fuma, reveals that proposal for an onshore test well in Aljubarrota, in the Batalha concession area in Central Portugal, has been held up over the question of whether or not an environmental impact assessment is needed.

The Portuguese Environment Agency stated that it, "can not conclude" its deliberations as the submission from Australis Oil & Gas Portugal failed to state exactly where its rig will be drilling.

The Portuguese Environment Agency, led by Nuno Lancasta, did not make a decision but did offer its opinion on June 5th that, "It is not possible to conclude on the subjection of the project to an environmental impact assessment procedure."

According to the agency's commentary, "not knowing the exact location of the test well prevents the full description of the project and its location, determining factors that are necessary elements in assessing the applicability of the legal regime for environmental impact assessments."

The information, submitted by Australis Oil & Gas Portugal in February 2018 to the Portuguese Environment Agency, is vague:

"Australis has pre-selected an area of ​​approximately 1 km radius, within which the well will be located. It should be noted that although there is this selected area in which the location of the survey will be defined, there is no exact location at this stage. The exact location will depend on the detailed assessment of the environmental, technical and social characteristics and constraints that may exist in some identified parcels of land and in analysis, as well as the possibility of entering into a contract with the owner(s) of the chosen plot."

Australis did say that the test well would be approximately 3,200 metres deep and that the area covered by the drilling project would be approximately 7,500 square metres but failed to say where.

As for workers, one of the government’s key arguments in favour of oil and gas exploration at onshore and offshore sites in Portugal, the Australian concession holder states that the first phase would need 22 people, while not stating whether these were new jobs or imported technicians during the initial two month period.

“Throughout all the phases of the project, 268 people are needed: 88 Portuguese and 180 foreign,” according to the submission by the company that wanted to start drilling early in 2019.

It is the National Entity for the Fuel Market that will sign off the test well licence but it asked for the prior opinion of the Portuguese Environment Agency as to whether an environmental impact report is needed.

Just as it did with the Aljezur hole, the Portuguese Environment Agency opened a public consultation between March 27 and May 11, 2018, asking people what they thought about the need for an environmental impact assessment at the site in the Batalha concession area."

The report from this public consultation, dated in May, but revealed on July 3rd, has now been published on the Strate’s ‘Participa’ website.

The report states that "almost all opinions are in favour of an environmental impact assessment of the project under consideration, taking into account the location, size and characteristics of the project."

The Portuguese Environment Agency already has come under heavy fire for its decision on the offshore test well proposed by Galp-ENI. On May 16th this year, the agency authorised drilling off Aljezur without the need for an environmental impact assessment, saying that, "the project is not likely to cause significant negative impacts."

A week later, several environmental groups called for Nuno Lacasta to resign along with his boss, the Environment Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes.

Galp-ENI’s biggest fans, the ministries of the sea and of the economy, currently are tangled up in court to get a drilling suspension lifted after anti-oil group, PALP, had the suspension decision upheld by the Administrative and Fiscal Tribunal in Loulé.

A later press release from Batalha Council indicates the string smell of rat. 

Batalha Council now is considering bringing an injunction to overturn the opinion of the Portuguese Environment Agency, concerned that by saying nothing, the agency is giving its "tacit approval" to the Australis gas project.

In a statement, Batalha Council points out that the Portuguese Environment Agency's ‘no comment’, although at this stage limited to the Alcobaça zone, "may establish a tacit approval of the request for research, as required by law, for Australis Oil & Gas to proceed, without hindrance, to the exploration and subsequent exploitation of natural gas throughout the region, according to the concession agreement signed with the Portuguese State."

The municipality states that during the public consultation, it expressed, "its greatest concern regarding the environmental impacts of the project, which should be minimised by an environmental impact assessment," and considers that, "all activities to be developed should be in full agreement with the spatial planning instruments."

"Given the lack of decision of the agency on this matter, and because Batalha Council considers essential the implementation of preventive measures," Mayor Batista Santos wants, "an immediate evaluation of the consequences of the opinion of the environment agency" and proposes to file" a precautionary measure to suspend the effectiveness of the administrative act, requiring a new environmental assessment."

"Batalha Council requires a very close environmental monitoring of this project. The non-decision of the Portuguese Environment Agency can constitute an open door for an intervention without criterion and with consequences for the territories involved," reads the Council press release.






The news above is based on the contribution of Pedro Miguel Santos to Apenas Fuma, an independent media project, where contributors are encouraged to talk about the society they want, giving voice to those who do not have it and looking closely at topics that are not given space by traditional media.

“We are independent, because our editorial choices do not depend on any external force and because we do not depend on any kind of private funding. We are progressive because we believe in social progress and that everyone must have guaranteed human rights and guaranteed basic needs. We are dissidents because we believe that the role of journalism is to scrutinize democracy - and it has not. We question decisions that are taken, hold representatives accountable, and give voice to the unrepresented.”


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