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Algarve oil debate: first drill site to go ahead in October

With the Algarve’s anti-oil campaign trying its best to get heard, Partex oil company boss António Costa Silva has gone on air to confirm the first drilling well for natural gas will be up and running by October.

Talking to Antena 1 radio and Diário Económico, Costa Silva said there would be no sign of the well from the shore. It is to be sited 40 to 50 kilometres off the coast of Faro, with “everything going ahead on the seabed”.

Portugal has to create wealth, he told his interviewers, adding that what is important is to “try and understand how the country entered the 21st century and left the economy stagnated in the 20th century”.

He stressed that an inventory of Portugal’s natural resources was “a mission of national sovereignty”, adding that: “Only afterwards should there be discussion on whether or not exploration should go ahead.”

Costa Silva’s comments have taken the region’s mayors by surprise. Ostensibly unanimous in their rejection of all prospection and hydrocarbon exploration, they have still to agree on their next step in the campaign to keep the Algarve free from oil.

Talking to Sulinformação this week, president of the association of Algarve boroughs (AMAL), Jorge Botelho said: “We maintain our opposition to the whole process, but as is public knowledge, at this time, we are very dedicated to the onshore issue, and not so much to offshore – although we think it is a mistake to go ahead with prospection and exploration at sea, off the Algarve coast.”

Costa Silva’s date of October was the “first time” Botelho claims to have heard “a fixed date for the start of drilling” – and his 15 colleagues making up AMAL have yet to take the legal steps that Botelho said they would be taking.

Meantime, anti-oil campaigners are warning this is the time to “wake up”. Is this the moment where Algarve mayors roll-over to allow offshore wells at the expense of winning the onshore debate, asks ASMAA, the Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association.

“Is Partex putting the screws on the current government?” queries the association’s Facebook page.

Meantime, a conference on the “Economic, Social and Environmental impacts of hyrdrocarbon exploration in the Algarve in the 21st century” has heard to “growing scientific evidence that points to significant risks and dangers to public health”, particularly when it comes to ‘non-conventional’ drilling methods.

João Lavinha of the Ricardo Jorge Institute explained that hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking) “involves lots of water”, with the risk of contamination of water resources and the “releasing into the air of gases like methane” which carry a “greenhouse gas effect tens time greater than that of carbon dioxide”.

The conference also heard from sociologist Luísa Schmidt of the Institute of Social Sciences who called the government’s intention to extract hydrocarbons in the Algarve “an attack on protected areas, touristic activity, traditional fishing and other activities” given that it is an “extremely intrusive” activity which does not sit well with “environmental concerns”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com