Campaigners hit back at Minister’s assurance that oil drilling will “take care” to safeguard tourism

With Deep Water Horizon showing in box offices throughout the world, it was perhaps not the best week for Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho to guarantee that drilling for oil and gas along Portugal’s coast would “take care” not to damage tourism.

Her statements, made during the Portuguese Tourism Summit in Lisbon, have been challenged by anti-oil campaigners, who say “care and drilling for fossil fuels” simply do not go hand-in-hand.

“We cannot accept this”, said ASMAA, one of the numerous groups fighting licences signed for exploration throughout the Algarve, both onshore and at sea.

The government is attempting “to make people think there is nothing they can do. That’s a lie”, the group adds. “We can still get these licenses overturned and stop gas and oil prospection both offshore and onshore.

In a hard-hitting statement released over the weekend, ASMAA explained: “We do not deny this is the government that has been elected, but our belief is that the rules of the game are not being respected”.

ASMAA’s release highlights the fact that “we have to remember that one year of payments to the government resulting from exploration by oil companies does not pay for a month of income from Algarve tourism.

“The government says that oil exploration and tourism can co-exist as exploration will be done with care! Who are they kidding?”

The statement describes the moment at the summit when Godinho was asked whether oil rigs at sea would be visible from Portugal’s beaches?

“With laughter in the room, the secretary of state was some seconds in silence before smiling to guarantee that the Government would be overseeing the whole prospection process “with care”.

“Nothing will be done to threaten tourism. This has been the concern of the Government”, she explained. “Nothing will be done behind populations’ backs, the preoccupation here is that nothing should be done to put our wealth at risk”.

Ironically, a 80,000-strong petition and opposition from all the borough councils in the Algarve – and a number elsewhere in Portugal – maintain that oil and gas contracts have indeed been signed ‘behind people’s backs’ as not one of them involved any initiatives for public consultation.

Meantime, to add to environmentalists’ fears, a Sines’ radio station has reported on a fuel leak at the port on Sunday, in the area used by container ships.

“Specialist means” were quickly employed, says Antena Miróbriga, “working through the night”.

Maritime police have taken various samples and are “trying to apportion responsibilities for the accident”.

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