Government’s pro-oil stance an “unacceptable exercise in political hypocrisy”

As the months career towards the moment in which oil companies Galp and ENI want to start drilling off the coast of the Alentejo, the perceived folly of the government’s surrender to ancient contracts that could have been allowed to lapse is travelling rapidly across borders.

In UK, Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays has donated €500 to the ongoing campaign to try and halt exploratory drilling due to start in the spring.

The money will be used, says SPEA birding association, to help with court costs of an injunction lodged at Loulé administrative court.

But, as national media has already reported, that injunction has since failed. Thus hopes are focused on literally shaming the Socialist government into some kind of delay tactic.

Centre-right PSD Algarve has described the decision taken earlier this month to extend contracts signed over a decade ago (that should have lapsed by now) as an “unacceptable exercise in political hypocrisy”.

The regional party recalled that only last year, PS leaders presented a new law making consultation with municipalities obligatory, while at the same time allowing the results of this consultation to stand for nothing.

The upshot has been that despite vehement opposition to hydrocarbon exploration by municipalities, holidaymakers, communities and environmental groups, the government is continuing to plough ahead regardless – a scenario which the PSD decries as “saying one thing, and doing another”.

The party also alludes to the “lack of transparency” in this whole business which has seen the government supporting the suspension of drilling plans at home, while actively promoting the country’s many concessions overseas.

Of course, the PSD cannot hide from the fact that it was the party that signed away the bulk of Portugal’s drilling concessions – but the message is valid nonetheless: “lack of transparency has been dominant” and this may be the one legal aspect left to challenge, say campaigners.

Meantime, the ‘poor publicity’ for Portugal generated by its insistence to become a fossil fuel producer as the rest of the world considers ploughing investment towards renewable energies can only work in the campaign’s favour.

Said SPEA’s Domingues Leitão in a press release thanking Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays for all the annual donations the company has made towards supporting environmental issues in Portugal: “The risks of an accidental spill are obvious and extremely worrying – not only for life at sea but for the whole of the Algarve coast, and for the people and tourist businesses that depend on the natural treasures of this coast.

“We are enormously grateful to the support received from our friends at Honeyguide. This international support makes us realise that wildlife is not something that recognises national borders, particularly when it comes to precious marine environments”.

SPEA’s text referred to the organisation’s concerns are for the “high concentration of porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)”.

These species are “highly sensitive to noise at sea, for example the results of drilling”. The arrival on the scene of Galp/ ENI contractors “could interfere” with the dolphins’ orientation and communication, while routes used by migratory birds, including the Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) threatened with extinction, and albatross, would be affected by the sudden appearance of rigs.

SPEA, like every other group in this fight, is particularly upset that this far no environmental impact study has been demanded as a prerequisite to allowing oil companies the go-ahead.

Honeyguide’s CEO Chris Durdin has also added his own words of warning: “We have had the opportunity to see the damage caused to UK coastal communities and wildlife as a result of pollution by hydrocarbons, that is why we are happy to contribute to safeguarding Portugal’s environment”.

The more “international outrage” this issue gets – particularly when it comes from tourist-based organisations – the better, say campaigners, while the nail-biting countdown towards spring continues.

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Photo: Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays, based in Norfolk, takes sea trip with SPEA off Algarve coastline