Australis seeks investors for 620,000 ‘contiguous acres’ in Portugal’s fire-stricken centre and north

Oil and gas company Australis has released a new corporate presentation, aimed at securing investors for what it calls “620,000 contiguous acres in the onshore Lusitanian basin”.

In layman’s terms this refers to huge tracts of land, stretching from Leiria all the way northwards to beyond Figueira da Foz, from the coast to inland areas – many of which are still recovering from the infernos of the summer.

With focus totally on community recovery, almost nothing about this latest drilling threat has appeared in the national press.

Indeed, to a certain extent since the razzmatazz of municipal elections, the machinations of the State Budget and the government crisis over management of the fires, the oil and gas issue seems to have ‘melted away’.

But this week’s presentation shows Australis’ plans are still very much on, with the company emphasising its concessions’ “significant development potential” and “minimum work commitments”.

This latter terminology means the contracts are light on specifications. Indeed, they are light on government participation full stop.

Australis’ “asset highlights” include what the company calls ‘superior fiscal regime: royalties 0-9%, 21% corporation tax, no government participation”.

Sounding the warning over social media, anti-oil campaigners recall the “Petroleum Exploration in Portugal” conference at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon two years ago, during which Australis managing director Ian Lusted is quoted as having referred to his company’s concession deal as having “very, very favourable terms”, and being one that “will be extremely profitable once there’s an increase in the oil price”.

By coincidence, oil is up to a two-year high as a result of the ‘corruption purge’ in Saudi Arabia. This may have had nothing to do with Australis’ presentation on Monday, but it will definitely add to their projects’ allure.

The company cites “significant gas resource” and a “favourable gas market” bearing in mind all this country’s oil and gas is currently imported, and domestic markets are, says the presentation, “under supplied”.

A firm convert to the movement ‘keep-it-in-the-ground’, Laurinda Seabra – the seemingly unstoppable voice of citizens group ASMAA – says “it is critical that people are made aware of what is happening.

“We debated about returning to this subject now”, she told the Resident. “People are still trying to come to terms with the fires, and how they can move forwards. We thought we should leave it a while. But then this happened. The threat is right back on. They’re working to a schedule”.

In fact, the company said in its last Quarterly Report (September 2017) that it is moving ahead with plans for an environmental impact assessment “in preparation for drilling”. It intends to carry out the EIA “during the early part of 2018”.

Says a subsequent press statement from ASMAA: “If you are reading this, we request that you share this with your colleagues, family and friends before it is too late. Not only are you all facing the disaster that the aftermath of the fires has left behind, you are also now facing another major risk in your doorstep. Fracking!”

To be fair, Australis’ presentation has mentioned nothing about hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Looking back over statements and reports, the company’s power point presentation logged by the ENMC (government entity in charge of gas and oil concessions) explains that the company is “very excited by the exploration opportunities in the Lusitanian Basin” and hopes over time “to integrate with the local community”.

In the summary of this 2015 document, the company says: “Our plan is to move the exploration activity within the basin to the next phase in a responsible and prudent manner and with success make a material and positive impact for the Portuguese nation”.

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