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Gas drilling gets go-ahead

By Emma Bertenshaw [email protected]

Repsol, the Spanish gas and oil exploration giant, and German company RWE have been given the green light by Portugal’s Secretary of State for Energy, Henrique Gomes, to drill for gas off the Algarve.

The company, which has been in negotiations with Portugal’s government since 2002, will now see its activities extended across the entire Iberian southern coast, as they have been drilling for more than a decade off the coast of Spain.

The area involved is approximately 6,000 square kilometres of ocean continental shelf belonging to Portugal and lies roughly 8.5 km from the coast between Quarteira and Vila Real Santo António.

The lucrative natural resources could prove to be an attractive solution for Portugal to gain a stronger position of energy fuel independence, resulting in lower costs for residents.

Currently, Portugal imports most of its energy needs, making it dependant on fluctuations in the international market.

Companies such as Galp, Petrobras and Partex already have established research and production operations off the coast of the Alentejo and Peniche. The chairman of Partex, Costa Silva, believes that the offshore resource in the region could sustain energy consumption for at least ten years.

Following BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest recorded in US waters, there has been heightened awareness of safety measures involved in the exploration of oil and gas and their impact on marine and coastal wildlife.

In July the EU proposed a draft resolution with new rules whereby oil companies will be made liable for any environmental damage, as well as having to adhere to stricter guidelines for their health and safety policies.

This coincides with the news that BP has recently won permission from the US government to start drilling in the Mexican gulf, their first new contract since deepwater horizon.

The new EU guidelines, calling for further transparency in operations, staff safety and third party regulators have been put forward by the Committee of Industry, Research and Energy and will need to be approved by the 27 member states and by EU parliament.

Repsol is listed as the most sustainable oil company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, recently pioneering the first commercial Spanish flight using biofuel together with Iberia airlines and saving nearly 20% on CO₂ emissions.

Henrique Gomes has indicated that although the government is aware of concerns from residents and environmentalists there is little risk of impact on the environment from gas exploration as compared to oil.

Local MP Mendes Bota, however, remains opposed to the exploration, arguing that the contract will turn the region into “a giant drilling field”.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]