While a government inquiry is underway into the onshore oil and gas drilling concessions granted to start-up company Portfuel, the government has announced that offshore drilling is to start on July 1st off the Alentejo coast to the west of Aljezur.
Anti-oil campaigners have been aware that there are plans by Repsol and Partex to start drilling under the sea to the south of Faro in October but the unexpected announcement that the Galp/ENI consortium is preparing to start drilling 56.5kms off the Alentejo coast in the Santola concession in just over a month’s time has meant anti-oil campaign plans and timetables have had to be rapidly reconfigured.
The government’s relentless insistence that ‘it just wants to see what resources are out there’ is widely regarded as nonsense as campaigners ask, why would an oil company spend tens of millions on looking for oil unless the government already had advised it not to worry about any adverse environmental impact assessment as these will be mere formalities?
The oil concessions granted are for exploration through to extraction and the government fully intends to turn Portugal into an oil producing country despite the appallingly poor deals that were signed, with the professional negotiators from the various oil companies involved walking all over Portugal civil servants and politicians in terms of ‘value for money’ for the public.
In case of 'out at sea, out of mind,' the Prime Minister António Costa is close to cancelling the two onshore concessions for the Algarve that inexplicably were granted to Portfuel and awaits only a suitably damning report from the Attorney General’s Office
"We will act on the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office and we expect it to confirm our interpretation of having the conditions for the annulment of this agreement," said the Prime Minister today, concerned at the furore surrounding onshore drilling but hopeful that all will calm down when it comes to offshore drilling and extraction of oil and gas.
There is one further formality before drilling starts on July 1st, the opportunity between May 31st and June 22nd for the public to register an opinion in a rushed ‘public consultation’ process.
The current national groundswell of opinion is that oil and gas are not a necessary part of Portugal’s economy as the risk to the country’s booming tourism industry is too great.
68% of respondents in a national poll do not want oil and gas exploration in the Algarve but the government's view is that the oil deals are signed and that the public simply is being hysterical.
The larger oil companies are in change of their own clean up operations should the worst happen and the smaller ones may not have sufficient resources should there be a major oil spill incident.
The last ecological disaster happened in 2002 when the Prestige tanker sank and leaked 63,000 metric tons of oil into the sea which affected the coastlines of France Spain and northern Portugal, proving that Portugal is not set up to deal with the results of oil transport or production accidents.
The entirely cosmetic public consultation running between 31 May and 22 June asks individuals to email the Mineral Resources Authority on
email@example.com thus enabling this government body to control any adverse feedback by hitting the ‘delete button.’
The advice document from DGRM helpfully advises anyone wishing for more information to get in touch via post to Avenida Brasilia, 1449-030, Lisbon, or by telephone on 213 025 193.
Because of the obvious weaknesses in a public consultation that only allows people to write in or phone up, anti-oil group ASMAA has set up an urgent Public Petition which readers with Fiscal Numbers are invited to fill in and hit ‘send’
If enough people sign the official Public Petition, there may be a suspension of the July 1st drilling off the Alentejo shore while parliament has to set aside time to debate the oil and gas issue.
The rushing through by the government of the Alentejo offshore drilling notice and the cosmetic consultation process may have been provoked by the Algarve’s mayors who are taking the government to court over the granting of oil and gas drilling concessions onshore and offshore.
The mayors may yet be able to get an injunction to halt exploration while their legal action is being considered but in this game of cat and mouse the government is proving to be a determined, slippery and undemocratic foe.
For the notably brief drilling notice sent to Aljezur council, click here:
ASMAA's main points are:
"We are seriously concerned by the adverse impacts that offshore drilling can have on the environment; that it will not only lead to environmental degradation but also to negative social and economic impacts, as the natural beauty of our coastline is integrally linked with tourism, and is one of the major factors for residents moving to or already living in this area of the Algarve.
"The close proximity of the potential area of operation to the coastline is of great concern to all of us, as well as the fact that the visual amenity of the coast may be compromised due to the presence of semi-permanent vessels and associated infrastructure. Furthermore, we are believe that the local community will not receive any direct benefit from the proposed exploration should this application proceed.
"Our main areas of concern include, but are not limited to:
Our main areas of concern include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of information on response to emergency situations, such as a subsea rupture
- Air, noise, water and beach pollution
- Impacts on rare or protected species
- Acoustic affects of seismic testing
- Disruption of whale migration due to seismic testing and the presence of semi-permanent vessels and associated infrastructure
- Visual impacts of surface infrastructure and activities
- Exclusion of recreational and local fishing vessels from exploration zones
- Physical damage to the sea floor and important habitats
- Release of hydrocarbons from either the sea bed or pipes into the marine and shoreline environment
- Changes in pelagic fish ecology and congregation due to the presence of semi permanent vessels and associated infrastructure
- Facilitation of noxious or invasive species invasion due to the presence of semi permanent vessels and associated infrastructure
- Impact on climate change