Major confusion as anti-oil movement discovers massive onshore contract “could still be in place”

Portugal’s anti-oil movement got a new ‘kick in the teeth’ this weekend, as elsewhere national media focused on oil giants Galp ‘pulling out of three concessions in the Peniche block’ and President Marcelo rubber-stamping a new law giving borough councils a ‘say’ in the awarding of any new contracts.

Activists trying to keep up with a situation which they say “seems to change all the time” have discovered that the massive southern Lusitanian drilling contract – awarded to Canada’s Oracle Energy Corporation five years ago – appears to remain in place.

According to the official ENMC (national entity for combustibles market) website, Oracle “required the abandonment of the concession area” back in 2014.

But if this is the case, why does the company retain the following announcement on its website, under the heading for operations in Portugal:

“The Direcção Geral de Energia e Geologia (“DGEG”), an agency of the Portuguese Ministry of Economy and Employment, has awarded Oracle Energy the Barreiro oil and gas concession in Portugal’s southern Lusitanian Basin. The new concession is 95% onshore and covers an area of approximately 211,275 acres in size (855 sq km). Terms of the concession provide for an initial exploration period of 8 years that expires on January 31st, 2021.

“Over the past five years there has been renewed interest in oil and gas in Portugal both on and offshore. Seismic and drilling has confirmed the existence of two onshore petroleum systems and three significant exploration plays: the Triassic Pre-salt, a Liassic (Lower Jurassic) unconventional resource play and Upper Jurassic reefs. In addition, Portugal is relatively unexplored, has excellent fiscal terms and has ready access to premium European markets”.

The truth is that “no-one knows what really is going on regarding Oracle’s claims”, says leading campaigner Laurinda Seabra of ASMAA, the Algarve’s anti-oil now working in collaboration with activist movements in the Alentejo and elsewhere in Portugal.

“We know for sure that this government will say anything to sound appealing, but then go ahead and do exactly what it wants behind closed doors.

“The news about giving councils a say in the awarding of any new concessions, it’s just more ‘sand in people’s eyes’, more ‘blah, blah, blah’ designed to hoodwink people into thinking everything is okay. It isn’t. The mayors already had a say, as we’ve seen clearly over the past 2 years. The only real difference is that the government now has one more box to tick before it goes back to “business as usual”.

“We know, for example, that the Minister of the Sea is actively “selling” not only concessions for oil and gas exploration, but vast tracts of the deep ocean that Portugal doesn’t even officially own yet…”

And of course, ‘hearing councils out’ does not mean the government will be acting on what they say.

On Costa Vicentina, where Galp is adamant that drilling will start 46 kms off the coast of Aljezur next year, both Aljezur and Odemira councils have pronounced themselves vehemently ‘against’ the plans, to absolutely no avail.

Odemira’s bid for an embargo is still going through the “loops of legal processes”, explains Seabra – stessing that AMAL, the association of Algarve municipalities is also fighting exploration –
but activists are under no illusions over the clout Galp pulls behind-the-scenes.

Meantime, the next major demonstration designed to show powers-that-be how their electorate feels about the country being transformed into a 21st century drilling field is scheduled for next Saturday in Odeceixe (click here).

Bizarrely, in another section of the world’s media, renewable energy magazine ran a report last Friday, calling Portugal a “country inching closer to fossil fuel independence each year” (click here).

It is hardly surprising that conservationists say they “really don’t know what the heck is going on”. “The game keeps changing”, says Seabra, referring to “new elements being added by the day”.

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