What could be seen as a “major blow” to the Algarve’s concerted anti-oil and gas exploration campaign is being interpreted as just another step on the path from ‘delivering us from evil’.
Laurinda Seabra, CEO of one of the most active groups in the fight, put the news in context, saying: “This is not in the least bit surprising. It doesn’t change a thing. The region’s mayors are still going ahead with their own legal challenges.
Populations are dead against this for all the environmental reasons that we have been explaining through our awareness sessions, and I am still sure that if the government is prepared to conduct a proper forensic investigation into the contracts’ adjudication and award-signing process, they will find grounds to rescind legally, without burdening the country with compensation payments.”
For now, however, the ruling by the consultative council of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) sets out the ‘validity’ of the granting of contracts to Portfuel – a tiny company owned by Portuguese billionaire Sousa Cintra – at the 11th hour of the last government without any consultation having gone ahead with either regional authorities or the populations that will be affected.
Validity centres on “the public interest” in knowing what kind of energy resources lie under our feet.
Portugal is a country where “oil production is zero” and thus the importance of establishing whether this can change, says the council’s report.
But while anti-oil groups are determined to see drilling never happens, the government too is making sure further questions are answered.
Calling the contracts a “complete mess” – due to all kinds of lacuna taken on board in the so-called public interest – secretary of state for energy Jorge Seguro Sanches told parliament earlier this week: “Above all, we have to see what the greater public interest in this country is.”
In other words, the consultative council’s report is being taken very much as another fly-in-the-ointment, rather than a major stumbling block.
As campaigners continue to chart their course towards sweeping contracts off the national map, a new group is joining the fight, with an impressive set of names behind it, some of them connected to the cultural/environmental side of the Gulbenkian Foundation which, on a different level, earns money from the oil industry through Partex Oil and Gas.
Futuro Limpo has set out a 10-point manifesto on why Portugal should be freed from its oil and gas contracts, both in the Algarve and elsewhere, and is planning an inaugural protest in Lisbon on July 14 next week, designed to connect with Lisbon residents about to set off to the Algarve for their summer holidays.