Candidates snub attempts to bring clarity to gas and oil debate

With municipal elections at the door, an anti-oil campaign initiative to get candidates to answer a simple a “yes” or “no” about voting intentions regarding oil and gas drilling has fallen flat.

Of the almost 270 candidates polled, only 81 have bothered to answer.

The only slice of sunshine is that the 81 replies were “positive”. This means that 25% of the country’s regional political class has agreed to “take all measures possible” to block oil and gas drilling up and down the country.

But that doesn’t say much for the remaining 75%.

Anti-oil campaigners are staying mum until Sunday’s vote, suggesting distrust between their groups and local politicians is running high.

Of the Algarve’s borough councils, only a smattering of mayors running for new mandates have supported the antis: José Amarelinho (PS Socialists) of Aljezur – where drilling could start 46 km from the coast next spring – being No 1.

Elsewhere, Lagoa mayor Francisco Martins (PS), Loulé’s Vítor Aleixo (PS), Faro’s Rogério Bacalhau (PSD coalition) and Tavira’s Jorge Botelho (PS, finally, last Friday) have pledged their opposition.

That leaves plenty of others who refuse to show their hands.

As one warned campaigners: “I am a politician, first and foremost”.

Climate change researcher João Camargo, writing in Público has warned that areas due to see oil wells sunk as soon as next year have not even touched on the subject in the current campaign.

“Worrying signs” include lack of support even from municipalities due to see oil and gas drilling onshore (at Batalha, and Peniche).

Camargo stressed that another serious concern is the lack of commitment from CDU Communists/ Greens.

His opinion article in Público on Saturday set out reasons why the government would be well within its rights to rescind all the concessions and “end the oil nightmare for Portugal” once and for all.

“Contractual infringements by the oil companies are clear, and give the government all the margin (it needs) to terminate the contracts without even needing much political courage or citing imperative climate issues”, he writes.

But the reality is that “the threat persists”, and as of today – six days before municipalities choose their next four year leadership – very little is clear about how that leadership views the issue of gas and oil drilling.

In Monchique, for example, mayor Rui André (PSD) and every other political candidate has refrained from answering campaigners’ burning question, writes Sulinformação.

In Vila do Bispo, just south of Aljezur, PS mayor Adelino Soares has been equally coy, along with CDU candidate Paula Vilallonga, though PSD’s Afonso Nascimento, BE’s Sebastião Pernes and the Independent candidate Fernando Cortes have all shown that they support the movement against fossil fuel exploration, says the website.

Meanwhile, ‘free from gas and oil’ campaigners say they will continue to try and reach municipal candidates, right up until campaigning stops on Friday.

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