Portugal’s oil ‘drilling dilemma’ makes it to European stage

Anti-oil activists should be delighting in the fact that Portugal’s fight against the government zeal to exploit fossil fuels – however loud citizens speak out against them – has finally made it ‘out of the country’. But they are not.

European website Politico, a joint-venture between US and German political publishers, published its article “ Portugal confronted by choice between tourist and black gold” this (Friday) morning.

Journalist Paul Ames explained in a sub-heading that “drilling could undermine the country’s charms”.

It is a simplistic view, that may illustrate the slogan “oil and water just don’t mix”, but which has exasperated hardened campaigners.

Activist and climate change researcher João Camargo called it “a very bad piece”.

“It concentrates on oil vs tourism, leaving many other issues without a mention”, he told us.

“It makes a ridiculous claim about “potential” which, were there any real grounds or data for that claim, would have already surfaced.

“It once again bites the hook on the bogus claim of 43 billion euros in reserves but doesn’t even understand how ridiculous that is when a few lines down it says Portugal spends 7 billion a year on oil and gas – which means the reserves would be six years worth of Portuguese consumption.

“And it goes on to propaganda: “this Socialist government won’t hesitate in imposing stringent environmental impact studies”.

“Leaving climate change and its global as well as local effects off a piece such as this is incredibly damaging, because it omits one, I would say the strongest, claim against oil and gas, here and anywhere else”.

Laurinda Seabra CEO of Algarve group ASMAA has also balked at the omissions in the piece, saying that as far as her association is concerned “the law underpinning the oil contracts is invalid” – meaning they should all be declared null and void.

“Had the article looked at issues that had not made mainstream Portuguese media, and raised other factors that are in the public domain, it would have highlighted other areas of concern”, she said.

“In addition when one compares the tourism, fishing and agriculture industries revenues for the country versus the hogwash claim of potential earnings from oil and gas exploration, Ames has conveniently forgotten that the Portuguese subsidiaries of the oil companies registered in Portugal could be seen as nothing more than fronts as their controlling companies as well as the bulk of suppliers are headquartered in offshore havens”.

Ames’ piece has alluded to the “wave of protests” uniting the country, saying “much of the disquiet is focused on the risks to Portugal’s tourism industry. Direct earnings from tourism brought in a record €11.9 billion last year… Almost two in every 10 jobs are supported by tourists, many attracted by Portugal’s pristine beaches and superlative seafood”.

But what his article failed also to address was the government’s apparent determination to plough through environmentalists’ concerns.

At a conference in Lisbon on Wednesday, Portugal’s director general for the politics of the Sea, Fausto Brito e Abreu, told the audience that deep sea mining – dubbed by scientists as an ‘invisible land grab’ set to destroy “systems that underpin planetary stability” – is “unavoidable”.

Put as simply as the view that oil drilling “could undermine the country’s charms”, the sustainable future that climate change agreements aspire to looks wedged ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

There are only two ‘provisos’ that play into the anti-camp. One is the fact that the government needs to keep its left-wing (anti-oil) partners on board, and so needs to move forwards ‘carefully’. The other is the state of the oil industry itself.

As Ames explains: “Portugal’s deep offshore is a frontier zone with risks for investors who still don’t know for sure how much crude is down there.

“When the oil price was at $100 a barrel, companies had more appetite to take that risk,” an oil company exploration source told him. “Nothing has changed in terms of the geology, but companies have less appetite for the risk because the price of oil is lower.”

And that’s what activists will have in mind as they step up their strategy to stymy oil companies’ plans, every step of the way.

[email protected]