Algarve oil-drilling ‘confusion’: Government says it can cancel onshore contracts, Portfuel says not

Following on from last week’s news that gas and oil company Partex is prepared to ditch plans for Portugal if the government doesn’t sign on the dotted line ‘and fast’, national media has been embroiled in a “will it/ won’t it” wrangle over the Algarve’s onshore licences, covering 14 out of the region’s 16 boroughs.

According to Público on Friday, the government’s deadline for rescinding the universally unpopular licences has lapsed.

“Despite the Secretary of State for Energy having initiated the process of rescission – invoking contractual failings on the part of (Portfuel) the business of José Sousa Cintra, the truth is that he has not come to a decision within the legal time limit cited in the Code of Administrative Procedure”, Portfuel’s lawyer André Duarte Figueira told the paper.

This ‘non decision’ is proof, says Figueira, that the government doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

“So much noise, for no reason”, he added, referring to the outcry locally, backed by the Algarve’s 16 mayors, and prompting multiple protest actions and various debates in parliament.

Portfuel is “continuing to develop prospection in the areas of Aljezur and Tavira”, said the lawyer, and is “awaiting approval” of its ‘plan for works for 2017’.

Meantime, Sousa Cintra himself has given an interview to national tabloid Correio da Manhã saying as far as he is concerned every country in the world “wants to have oil”.

But it is clearly not that simple.

Hot-on-the-heels of Público’s story Secretary of State for Energy Jorge Seguro Sanches told Jornal de Negocios that the rescission process is still very much alive, and that the government will be making a decision about Sousa Cintra’s polemic onshore contracts “very soon”.

In a statement released to the press, the government said it has asked the Attorney General’s advisory council for “clarification”, and for a “decision that best defends the public interest”.

This is the third attempt for a definitive answer. The last two have seen the council basically rule that even though Portfuel has not fulfilled contractual obligations, they are not in fact binding – and so insufficient to warrant contract rescission.

A government source told the paper: “We have sent the Attorney General of the Republic information three times so that the government can rescind Sousa Cintra’s contracts”.

Thus if this report is to be believed, it is a situation of energy minister Seguro Sanches hoping to get “third time lucky”.

For now, the government’s press statement guarantees that “nothing will be done that does not comply with the law and safeguard public interest, namely from a regional and financial point of view”.

Anti-oil protesters point out that this assurance appears to be mutually exclusive.

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