Having been following Australis progress in Portugal since the contracts were signed in 2015, and being reasonably well informed, at ASMAA we decided that we would be there.
Our curiosity was further raised on reading a copy of the invite which was forwarded to us, and which we subsequently learned had been sent to only a few selected people, associations and councils, in which we noted with interest their disclaimer that Australis would not be FRACKING our country.
On arrival at the venue in Leiria, we were surprised when our representative was initially prevented from attending the meeting, as she had introduced herself as an interested member of the public, and not as our representative. Only after an interesting telephonic discussion with one of Australis representatives, were we informed that there would be an exception, and that she would be allowed to attend as she officially represented our association.
That reaction and welcome really took us by surprise.
For a company that is intent on drilling using controversial drilling technologies such as fracking (in spite of Australis having gone to great lengths right through the presentation to deny it), one would have expected a totally different attitude to interested members of the public. In our humble opinion, it does not bode well for their corporate reputation the use of such public relations actions.
Inside the venue, about 20 people were present, being 4 representatives from Australis, the mayor of Porto de Mós council region, 2 representatives from Quercus, at least 1 representative from Oikos association, 1 from Academia da Cidade, one from ASMAA (uninvited), one journalist from Jornal de Leiria, and a few others that we did not managed to find out who they represented, but expect they represented other local public services interests.
During the presentation, another interesting piece of information that we gathered, was their insistence that it was based ONLY on Australis good intentions and good will, that the company would be doing an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), in spite of not being required to do so by law.
In our opinion, we believe that may be stretching the truth a bit.
But we are not surprised by their statements.
What the company failed to state is that there was a public consultation that closed on the 11 May this year, in which opinions where asked from interested parties on whether or not Australis drilling intent should be subject to an EIA or not. The response by interested parties, including ASMAA, was an overwhelming YES, they should!
Looking back, the documentation supplied by Australis as part of that public consultation process left a lot to be desired, as in our opinion, it was substandard and lacking substantive supportive information. For a listed company that promoted itself in the meeting as being an experienced player in the oil industry, we must honestly state that we expected a lot more. And it appears, so did the Portuguese Environmental Agency, as after all, it was blatantly clear to us when we read their reports. (which you can download a copy in Portuguese in the attachment section below)
Another matter that surprised us in the meeting was the constant emphasis on drilling using ONLY "Horizontal Drilling” while ignoring that rock stimulation using unconventional technologies such as “fracking” is normally associated with horizontal drilling. Especially taking into account the type of geology that is found in the drilling target areas.
In fact, according to experts that we consulted, its impossible for anyone to guarantee that hydraulic fracturing will not be used, because as a norm, only when operations are in full swing, will all impact factors and additional drilling challenges be known, but that the norm is indeed ,that some type of "hydraulic fracturing technology" is always used.
Once questions started to get really interesting, the meeting was quickly brought to an halt. Guess they were not really prepared to address the key areas of concern that many has. Afterwards there was a short Press Conference.
Later in the day, local press articles promoted the idea that there is no reason for concern as there will not be "Fracking", this was supported unbelievably by comments from the representatives of Quercus and Oikos, which leads us to question if they are really "environmental" protection associations.
We also analysed the information disclosed during the meeting against Australis report to investors of 29 Oct 2018 which indicated that they aim to "drill and test the gas discovery with a vertical well." No mention of horizontal drilling". Regarding the EIA, "In late 2017, Australis engaged with the Portuguese Environmental Authorities to initiate the recently legislated regulations. In the investors disclosure document they also indicated that the process is essentially split into three phases: - An assessment of the project for the applicability of an EIA - If required, the identification of the necessary scope of work - Once the EIA has been completed by the proponents, it is then assessed by the Authorities. Australis is presently awaiting feedback from the Portuguese Environmental Authorities on the applicability assessment.
All in all, our take on this session was that the purpose was really to introduce the company as a caring and responsible player in the oil exploration field. That Portugal and its people have nothing to worry about, because Australis really has the interest of people and planet in their hearts, instead of profits for shareholders.
Did we leave believing it? Not at all …
“Nem UM Furo” - “Not ONE Well”