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Posted by portugalpress on October 01, 2015
Source: ENMC
A campaign picture by Oilgarve, an anti-oil Facebook group which originally masqueraded as being “pro-oil” to attract people’s attention

In a week when national media declares Portugal is “back on the oil exploration map”, the government has signed concessions that see almost every borough in the Algarve ring-fenced for exploration over the next eight years. At the same time, national fuel entity ENMC has said it is ready to hand out even more offshore prospecting licences for Porto and the Algarve. The “great Portuguese oil carve-up” has well and truly begun. The Resident talks to ENMC chief Paulo Carmona to discover what populations in the Algarve can expect as the land they occupy goes under prospectors’ microscopes.

“I can appreciate people might be scared,” he told us. “But this is not about Portugal becoming a petro-economy like the North Sea.”

“The worst that could happen” in the event of oil or gas being found in suitable quantities for commercial extraction would be “the passing of tankers along the coast”, he said, which could potentially open up risks for accidents.

“This would be terrible for the Algarve,” he agreed. “No sensible government would destroy the well-being of a population for a few barrels of oil.”

“The ENMC has to look for the well-being of populations,” he stressed, adding that concessions signed last week for land-based exploration in the Algarve were, in his opinion, unlikely to result in any major fossil fuel discoveries.

“Our specialists think there is only a remote possibility of finding oil or gas,” he told us.

Nonetheless, the green light given to oil company Portfuel last week covers a massive area.

Dubbed “Aljezur” and “Tavira”, the names suggest two small towns at opposite ends of the Algarve. The reality (see diagram) is hundreds of kilometres of mainland territory – much of it coastline – excluding only Albufeira, parts of the Golden Triangle and Ria Formosa.

Portfuel – owned by self-made Portuguese businessman Sousa Cintra – now has eight years to prove whether there are reserves of oil and/or gas underground in sufficient quantities to justify extraction.

“Our specialists consider this to be an act of faith,” explained Carmona, adding that Sousa Cintra would appear to be “alone in this faith”.

But the former president of Sporting football club’s “interesting record” in the United States – where he runs Texas oil company Petro Lions – led to ENMC granting him the onshore concessions.

Now Sousa Cintra and his team have to decide where it is that they want to drill.

Exploration in this case is “nothing”, explained Carmona. “It is a simple process, like drilling for water.”

These “traditional methods” will nonetheless require ENMC permission and negotiation with landowners.

Portfuel “cannot just drill wherever they want”, Carmona stressed.

As to likely areas, Carmona pinpointed “hills” – without much further elaboration.

What he did stress was that experimental drilling would not be “in the middle of Praia da Luz”, or on beaches.

“There is plenty of deserted space up in the hills of the Barrocal”, he said, “where the majority of the area is unoccupied.”

But the bottom line of the conversation was that the ENMC is far more optimistic about the chance of viable discoveries offshore, and for this reason is ready to hand out seven more licences by the end of the year.

“Portugal seeks companies looking for oil in the Algarve and Porto”

Negóciosonline was one of the many news sources that attended a meeting in Lisbon on Monday in which the ENMC outlined plans for the future.

“The government is opening public tenders in the next few months to attribute seven licences for the prospection and production of oil and natural gas,” it explained.

Quoting ENMC’s José Miguel Martins, the site mentioned four “shallow” and two “deep offshore areas” in the Porto basin and a new “deep offshore area” in the Algarve basin.

Meantime – although various companies have invested around €236 million in exploration in Portugal since 2007 – pace is slackening due to the fall in the price of oil.

Plans by Repsol/Partex to start drilling in the Algarve this month are expected to be delayed until October 2016. According to Observador website, the consortium has requested an extension to the deadline of its licence and is awaiting the government’s answer.

|| Anti-oil groups rally to the cause

With the sudden surge of oil and gas publicity, anti-oil groups are rallying to the cause – adamant that fossil fuel exploration is the last thing Portugal needs.

ENMC’s contention is that “80% of our energy sources still come from fossil and renewables are not sufficiently mature” to cope with demand, but anti-oil lobbyists are keen to counter the argument, saying they are “hugely suspicious” of the rush of new licences.

“In the last six months, we have observed an escalation in the drive for oil and gas exploration in both offshore and inland. There seems to be a foray of new exploration licences across the board, and a willingness by the government to award licences left, right and centre without any consultation with the local stakeholders that would be affected by it taking place,” a source for campaign group ASMAA (Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association) observed. “What is behind all this? More importantly, who is behind all this?”

In Faro, marketing specialist Bruno Fonseca came clean this week over a bizarre “pro-oil” Facebook group, called “Oilgarve” – explaining it was a ruse to wake people up to “a very real danger that was not being properly discussed in the region”.

Thus as Portugal’s oil carve-up is all but signed and sealed, the public debate looks like it may finally begin.

Observador website writes that there is little doubt that oil and natural gas reserves will be found in and off the coast of Portugal. But will they be in sufficient quantities to merit the enormous expense of bringing them to the surface and refining them for use? As Luís Guerreiro, boss of oil company Partex told the meeting on Monday: “We still don’t know.”

By NATASHA DONN natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

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