By INÊS LOPES – [email protected]
No environmental impact assessments (EIA) are required for oil and gas exploratory activities, said the government in response to questions posed by various political groups.
In its response to the PCP party recently, the Ministry of Agriculture, Sea, Environment and Spatial Planning stated that it is not a legal requirement, as legislated under the EIA judicial regime of 2005, to assess the potential environmental risks of prospecting for oil and natural gas.
Algarve PSD MP Mendes Bota had, however, already posed the same question to the government, whose response the Algarve Resident reported on in the April 20 edition.
Mendes Bota, a long standing opponent of the plans to explore for oil and gas in the Algarve, since a public tender looking for interested parties was launched by the government in 2002, argues that the contract with the consortium will turn the region into “a giant drilling field”.
Consortium member Repsol is said to be looking for a business partner after RWE decided to abandon the project due to the company’s “new strategic orientation”.
Responding to questions made by the Algarve MP was the Ministry for the Economy, which said the consortium would be made liable for “any damage or loss resulting from its activity, being ultimately responsible for any negative impact it would have on the country’s economy and its population”.
When asked about the risk of an oil spill and whether environmental impact assessments had been made, the ministry said the risk was “minimal” and confirmed that no impact studies are necessary during the prospecting and research phase, citing the example of other countries such as Holland, Germany or the UK where the same situation applies.
Another concern raised by the PCP party are the restrictions imposed on the Algarve’s fishing activities while prospecting works take place until May 19 off the coast between Vila Real de Santo António and Faro.
Concerns have been raised among the local fishermen who fear for the future of the industry should oil drilling go ahead.
Oil and gas drilling plans are set for an area of more than 6,000 square kilometres of ocean continental shelf, with the oil rig drilling structures expected to be erected roughly 8.5km from the coast.
“Green” political group, Os Verdes, has also questioned the government about the way fishermen would be affected during this period as their activities were limited in some stock rich areas.
In a statement sent to the press, Os Verdes slam the oil drilling plans for creating an undesirable situation for fishermen. “We are faced with an injustice that is stopping the Algarve’s fishermen from earning a living and facing heavy fines if they disobey the restrictions imposed,” it said.
In order to minimise the negative impact the initial exploration activities would have on the fishing industry, the government explained that the prospecting area had been divided in three, each allotted a period for works to be carried out.
“This allows fishing activities to continue, however, fishermen must respect the restrictions,” said the ministry’s document, which also referred to a meeting it had had with the local fishing community on February 17, where it had been concluded that the impact of prospecting works had so far been minimal.
When are EIAs required?
According to the government, environmental impact assessments are required for the drilling of oil and natural gas for commercial purposes and when quantities exploited surpass 500 tonnes a day, in the case of oil, and 500 cubic metres, in the case of gas.
EIAs may also be requested for projects that, due to their location, dimension or nature, may be considered by the government as “susceptible to impact significantly on the environment”.
The response by the government continued by saying that prospecting works are being undertaken “12 nautical miles away from the coast and between 400 and 600 metres deep, in an area that is not a National Ecological Reserve or part of the Rede Natura 2000”.
However, the ministry referred to a proposal that has been sent to the European Parliament and European Council for the regulation of oil and gas exploration activities.
According to the proposal, the European Union has no specific legislation for offshore exploration of oil and gas, and the proposed bill aims to close this gap.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture, Sea, Environment and Spatial Planning assured that it would be following the Algarve case closely in what relates to environmental matters.
A civic movement against the oil and gas drilling plans for the Algarve has also been created. Called Movimento Algarve Livre de Petróleo, the group initiated an online petition calling for the immediate suspension of the plans. At the time of going to press, it had under 250 signatures. To sign it, go to http://www.peticaopublica.com/PeticaoListaSignatarios.aspx?pi=P2012N21659
Are you for or against the plans? The Algarve Resident would like to hear from you on this matter. Email your comments to the Editor at [email protected]