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‘Shock and disillusion’ as anti-oil campaigners learn drilling licence for Alentejo basin “has already been signed”

Campaign group ASMAA is in shock this evening after learning that the TUPEM licence for deep offshore drilling off the coast of Aljezur was signed under cloak of secrecy almost two weeks ago.

The controversial licence which has been contested by thousands of residents, all the Algarve’s mayors and multiple environmental NGOs was signed on January 11 by the outgoing director general of maritime agency DGRM days before his successor took over.

As leading campaigner Laurinda Seabra of ASMAA – the Algarve Surf and Maritime Activities Association – explained: “There is no way he would have signed this without the full knowledge of minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino”.

And yet all efforts by ASMAA to get answers about this licence from both DGRM and the Ministry of the Sea have been stymied – and ASMAA’s petition raised to show the strength of feeling against fossil fuel exploration has still not been discussed in parliament.

“This is unacceptable”, Seabra told us this evening. “It’s time now for us to move our demonstrations up a notch. We had been given the date of February 2 for our petition to be debated in parliament – which we deemed unacceptable as neither the Minister nor DGRM had replied to requests from the Petitions Commission. Today we got another date in February, but they have already signed the licence! What is the purpose of an audience if the deed is already done? This is unbelievable.

What today’s “dismal news” shows is a “total lack of respect” from the government to the 42,000 people who have shown themselves against the licence being granted, she said.

The decision to authorise drilling “just reinforces” campaigners’ belief that the public consultation process “has been a farce from start to finish”.

Even worse, said Seabra, are the terms and conditions of the licence: “The Galp/ Eni consortium is exempt from paying typical TUPEM licence fees, it is also exempt from paying a security deposit and from providing proof of Civil Responsibility insurance”.

“That last part I really had to read several times”, she said. “Just to make totally sure that I understood the depth of mismanagement at work here”.

In short, Seabra says the granting of the licence means that “not only has the government ignored the wishes of the resident population, visitors, tourists and investors to the region, it has with a sweep of the pen granted the rights to any area under Portuguese government control to any oil company that might want to drill in the future”.

This is “the line in the sand”, she told us. “We will have to take this to court now. This is such bad news for local people who have tried so hard to show the government that the best way forwards is to become one of Europe’s leading countries with renewables – and not start polluting our beautiful landscape with fossil fuel exploration.

“What this licence spells is gross civil negligence, and we are not going to take it lying down”.

“We have to remain committed and firm in our opposition”, she said. “We need to make our voices heard so that the government and oil companies know that when the people say “no” to oil drilling, they do mean “no”. “Not one well, not now… not in the future!”

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