Race is on to drill for oil off west Algarve coastline before May

The race is on. Clearly-determined oil companies Eni and Galp want to start drilling off the west coast of the Algarve by May.

Despite a parliamentary vote last December stipulating the requirement for an environmental impact study, joint concession holders ENI are reported to be disputing its necessity – as well as the requirement for a €20 million ‘guarantee’ and special insurance policy.

Environmental associations are in uproar – but it is difficult to see how this David versus Goliath battle to save the country from becoming a carbon producer will develop.

Bids for court injunctions have failed, the categoric veto by every borough council involved has seemingly counted for nothing – and 42,000 signatures taken from residents and holidaymakers over the last 18 months have been “ignored”.

Associação Zero calls the news that the government has quietly extended drilling contracts for concessions stretching from Sines to Lagos by another year “absolutely lamentable and incomprehensible”.

The “sovereign opportunity to cancel once and for all an investment that carries risks to the ecosystem, to populations, to the economy of the Southwest Alentejo and Algarve and which has the opposition of councils and local communities” has been jettisoned to the wind in a decision that is diametrically opposed to “announcements made by prime minister António Costa in 2016, at the Climate conference in Marrakesh in which Portugal pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050”.

Breaking the news over the weekend, Expresso suggested the government felt it had no choice.

The request for an extension to the contracts for concessions “Lavagante”, “Santola” and “Gamba” “were supported by administrative and legal exigences” and, according to energy secretary Jorge Seguro Sanches, implied “public interest”.

“The government stressed that in 10 years concession holders had made investments of over 76 million euros”.

In other words, “Eni/ Galp could demand damages”, explained Sábado, if this 3rd request for drilling extensions since the contracts were signed over a decade ago was not granted.

Thus, for now, the Algarve and southwest Alentejo is just four months from see exploratory drilling offshore after years in which local mayors and people have been saying the idea is unthinkable.

MALP, one of the first groups to mobilise against drilling plans, is calling for the intervention of President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Said Malp’s João Eduardo Martins: “Once more the government of António Costa has completely disrespected the citizens of the Algarve.

“There is a clear alliance here between the government of António Costa and the oil companies which goes against the need for sustainable development of the Algarve just at a time when the region has been chosen as the best touristic destination in the world”, he added.

With this thought in mind, civic group ASMAA has vowed it will “see the Portuguese government in court”.

Up to now, ASMAA – a prime mover in this fight – has kept its legal action to a minimum, waiting for the right moment to strike.

David may be up against the wall, but all that it could take to stop the ‘giant’ is a well aimed stone.

The clock is ticking while 9,100 square kilometres of ocean and communities along its shores hold a collective breath.