By: Caroline Cunha
OIL EXPLORATION will go ahead off the Algarve coast as contracts with an energy consortium are close to being signed.
However, opinions are mixed as to how this will affect the region and controversy surrounding the project appears set to continue.
Speaking after a session with the parliamentary commission for economic affairs and the Minister for the Economy, Manuel Pinho, Director General of Energy and Geology Miguel Barreto said: “It’s now just a question of co-ordinating diaries.”
He was referring to the exploration contracts to be signed between the government and the consortium formed by Spain’s Repsol (75 per cent shareholder) and Germany’s RWE (25 per cent).
The area in question lies off the coast between Faro and Vila Real de Santo António and the platforms are known as block 13 and 14. Drilling would take place at a depth of 200 metres and it is believed the concession could be granted for a period as long as 55 years, although initially just for eight.
The same consortium, selected via a public tender in 2002, is already exploring for natural gas in the Gulf of Cadiz, Spain.
The proposed section off the Algarve coast has the same geological characteristics, thereby increasing the probability of success in discovering hydrocarbon reserves.
Pinho said: “I am certain that the majority of the Portuguese people would like to see oil obtained from the Algarvean coast.” He denied it would put the tourism industry at risk and said any activity would be preceded by an environmental impact study. Perhaps to appease the critics, he said new government investments in the Algarve tourism sector would be announced shortly.
The project had been on hold since last February and the government has always been tight lipped in providing information, angering Algarve authorities and arousing suspicion.
MP and Algarve PSD leader, José Mendes Bota, who is strongly against the project, criticised Pinho: “I am offended on a personal, political and institutional level because it has taken one year and two months for the Minister to respond to the questions I raised concerning this project,” he said. “Now my worst expectations have been confirmed.”
The MP says oil exploration raises serious environmental concerns for the region and warned of the negative aesthetic consequences for tourism and the devastating effect an oil spill would have on beaches.
“The tourism industry has to be protected at all costs because it offers 60 per cent of all employment in the region,” he said, adding the project has practically no benefits for the Algarve at all.
AMAL, the entity representing the Algarve’s 16 councils, also complained about being left in the dark. Mácario Correia alleges he made over 20 phone calls to Manuel Pinho’s office asking for information without a response.
“The situation is deplorable and shows discrimination and contempt for local power.”
Elidérico Viegas, President of AHETA, which represents Algarve hotels and resorts told The Resident: “I think it is too early to be speaking about this. For me the problem does not exist yet. There will be some research done for oil and natural gas and two platforms will be installed.
“However, I’ve been told they will be far from the coast and it’s my understanding we will not have oil towers spoiling the appearance. We are just creating a problem by talking about this.”
The Resident also contacted the President of the Algarve Tourism Board, Hélder Martins, who declined to comment until more detailed information becomes available.
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