Attorney General’s office throws new spanner into works of anti-oil campaign

In the increasingly polarised debate about oil and gas exploration throughout Portugal, the Attorney General’s office has delivered a new bombshell.

The so-called ‘suspect’ onshore exploration contracts – covering almost every borough in the Algarve – signed with multimillionaire Sousa Cintra in the final days of the last government are, despite indications to the contrary (click here), completely legal.

The news was given by prime minister António Costa during yesterday’s parliamentary debate.

He said: “We asked the Attorney General of the Republic for an evaluation of the contracts, in order to confirm their legality. The answer of the Attorney General of the Republic was to confirm the legality of the contracts, and (the fact) that there was no margin to annul them.”

Rádio Renascença said that Costa “guaranteed that the government would continue to accompany the process with rigour so as to impede eventual environmental damage”.

“We are acting with great rigour,” he told parliament. “The Secretary of State for Energy guarantees to scrupulously uphold the law and contractual obligations and thus we will be able to continue in a way that guarantees no illegality will be committed, and prevent any kind of environmental damage.”

They were words that incite a new call-to-arms of the country’s anti-oil campaign.

João Camargo of Climaximo said Costa’s stance “shows the struggle against oil exploration is long from being over.

“António Costa has shown once again that his malleable backbone can only be made rigid through high pressure,” said the activist and regular contributor to Público, adding:“The law is a weapon of the rich over the people, and has nothing to do with justice.”

Meantime, the issue continues to put local authorities on a collision course with central government.

At a special debate in Faro last week, promoted by local development association In Loco, the region’s 16 mayors reiterated their opposition to any kind of drilling activity.

As Público explained: “The mayors of the region, in unison, once again rejected hydrocarbon exploration but the elected MPs for the district of Faro – with exception of the Bloco de Esquerda – said the process was irreversible, and simply stressed the need for environmental impact studies to be made.”

The crux of the issue, of course, is money, explains the paper.

Any annulment of law nº109/94 that opened the way for Portugal’s great oil and gas ‘carve up’ would see the State “confronted with claims for damages of many millions”.

It is a subject, said Público, “about which the MPs present avoided talking”.

Nonetheless campaigners are resolute. Speaking at the debate, Laurinda Seabra of the Algarve Surf and Maritime Activities Association said signatures were still being gathered to force new debates in parliament.

Right now, ASMAA’s petition has almost 80,000 signatures, she told the audience – adding: “We want to get to 100,000 signatures.”

Affirming local authorities’ categoric objections, Loulé mayor Vítor Aleixo exposed what he considers to be the problem with promises of environmental impact studies.

“I have had the opportunity to realise that studies conclude the will of the people who pay for them,” he said.

Pressure has to be kept on the government, said Aleixo, although it is already very clear that the wishes of Algarve’s borough councils and their residents “are in a position of inequality”.