Quercus, Portugal’s oldest environmental NGO, is calling on the government to renounce the remaining oil and gas drilling concessions still active in central Portugal.
A contract with Australis Oil & Gas, covering 620 contiguous hectares in the boroughs of Alcobaça and Leiria, is the only one left following widespread civic protest to what amounted to a chilling drilling ‘masterplan’ unveiled in the dying days of the former centre-right PSD government.
Early last year, the PS agreed to put a moratorium on the issuing of any new licences until after 2019’s elections. It did say however that it would be honouring contracts that already existed.
There has been no reference to the Australis Oil & Gas contract since the elections, but
Quercus doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
In a communiqué issued today, the NGO said to “allow the continuity of these projects would simply go against environmental policies defined by the European Union”.
It would also be an “unprecedented contradiction between what the government of Portugal says, and what it does”.
As the statement explains, the government has repeatedly stressed the need for ‘energetic transition’ (from fossil fuels to ‘green energy’).
Thus the NGO “demands” that the concessions known as ‘Pombal and Batalha’ be terminated.
Quercus also mentioned the ‘economic argument’ – explaining that the EU has decided to stop funding any projects involving fossil fuels from 2021.
In other words, bearing in mind all the environmental risks and impacts of gas and oil exploration, “new European directives clearly say both these projects have no environmental sustainability nor financial future and therefore should not go forwards”.
For now, the government hasn’t responded to Quercus’ call – and there has been no word from Australis Oil & Gas.
Back in January, MPs backed a call in parliament to drop the contracts, but Australis CEO Ian Lusted insisted his company was determined to go ahead as, in his opinion, exploration would be very important for the firm, as well as very important for Portugal”.
On the ground, communities around the drill sites are rallying. Indeed, there’s a meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening in Bajouca to “define measures of action to show Australis and all decision-making entities that the population does not and will not accept either prospection or exploration of either gas or any other fossil fuel in our parish”.
Leiria council has also commissioned a scientific study on what exploration will mean for the area, to “reinforce its position” to defend all the communities likely to be affected.