A call has gone out to Catholics “across the globe”: Fátima, Portugal’s “holiest of places”, visited by hundreds of thousands every year and this year celebrating the 100 years since the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is slap in the middle of an area signed over for oil and gas exploration.
If this wasn’t shocking enough, the concession area ceded to Australis Gas and Oil has opened the door to fracking – the controversial extraction process linked to earthquakes and serious pollution of underground aquifers.
Activists fighting the massive onshore project due to start early next year, were dumbfounded when they “found that block 7-44 of concession area 79 covered one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world, the Sanctuary of Fátima”.
“In disbelief, the coordinates block was checked and re-checked, time and time again. But the result was always the same – in its centenary year the Sanctuary of Fátima is in an oil and gas exploration zone”.
ASMAA – one of the leading citizens groups in Portugal’s anti-oil fight – prays the news will gird Catholics everywhere to join the many thousands already clamouring for the government to turn ‘back from the brink’.
In its latest press release, it provides an excerpt from the contract purportedly signed between the Portuguese government and Australis in which provisos for the use of hydraulic fracturing (the technical name for fracking) are set out.
According to the text, the concessionary (Australis) cannot embark on fracking without previously asking for authorisation.
If this authorisation however does not come in 30 days from its presentation, the text says Australis can “consider the request as approved”.
To date – despite these contracts having been signed “at the last minute” of the last government (in 2015) – there has been no extraction activity in any of the concessions marked out across the country (click here).
But the threat of start dates is on the horizon: GALP/ ENI have announced they will be going ahead with deep offshore drilling in the Alentejo Basin in the spring of 2018 (click here) and Australis Oil & Gas are seeking investors for their block of 620 ‘contiguous acres’ in the centre of the country (click here).
Time, quite literally, is running out, say activists.
ASMAA’s petition against the GALP/ ENI drilling licence is due to be debated by MPs later this month (December 21, in Lisbon). A demonstration outside parliament is planned from 10am, and support from all corners is welcome.
The group has added to its release the words of a US Catholic Sister, writing about fracking for her Ohio parish church as a result of extraction activity that “was proven to be the epicentre for 12 earthquakes over the last year”. ASMAA hopes Sister Mary Cunningham’s words will stir people out of any collective apathy they may have fallen into.
Sister Mary Cunningham sees fracking as an “environmental challenge” that “has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored”.
This may be the moment when the anti-oil fight becomes a religious issue.
ASMAA is simply asking all Catholics who care about the future to “email their Portuguese government representatives at a national and local level. As Sister Mary Cunningham says, “the worst thing we can do is act helpless, hopeless or clueless. Our Constitution guarantees the human right to clean air and clean water. Does not our faith call us to action on our own behalf and that of the human community?”
ASMAA’s fund-raising to tackle the fight continues. See their website: http://asmaa-algarve.org.