Ana Paula Vitorino was at a conference in Washington last September when she made the announcement, shortly after the public consultation process in to oil drilling off Aljezur had started.
She finds herself, along with the government, in very deep water indeed for pre-empting the result of the consultation, thus confirming that the government had every intention of ignoring overwhelming public 'anti-oil' opinion. It has long been known that the public consultation for the Galp-ENI ‘Santola’ exploration block was a sham, with the government barely bothered even to pretend that the feedback from the public would be ‘taken fully on board.’
Indeed, the 42,000 signature anti-oil petition was ignored totally as was the list of questions that were too inconvenient to answer. On January 11th, 2017, the drilling licence was signed by an inconsequential civil servant who has since resigned and drifted back into the shadows, unwilling to answer questions as to what had influenced him to sign.
Vitorino’s statement ay the investment conference came at a time when the concession held by Galp-ENI was to expire at the end of 2016. In fact the Ministry of Economy still has to decide one way or another on extending the concession term beyond the end of 2016 even though the drilling licence off Aljezur was granted in January.
The US conference was hosted by the Atlantic Council's ‘Eurasian Energies Futures Initiative’ in Washington last September 14th with the Minister of the Sea keen to attract investors to an oil and gas exploration business in Portugal, even though her government is adamant that this drilling activity is “only to see what resources are out there,” a stance that few with an IQ into double figures can bring themselves to believe, whatever their political allegiance.
Ana Paula Vitorino’s statement that there would be drilling in 2017 came just two days into the public consultation process that triggered a outpouring of anti-oil expression in 42,000 people with councils in the Algarve and Alentejo coast fully in support of the antis, realising the threat to the local tourism economy and their own positions in the Autumn 2017 council elections.
But none of this prevented Ana Paula Vitorino from making it clear in hee presentation that the drilling would begin in the first half of 2017.
Ana Paula Vitorino was aware at the Washington conference that there was a ‘little local difficulty,’ complaining with as much ignorance as cynicism, that "It is always difficult to deal with grassroots organisations and municipalities, which normally do not like this kind of investment, because they think it is alternative to tourism and conflicts with other economic activities."
The Left Bloc are on the case and, sensing blood, have asked the government what on earth the minister was up to when she announced the result of a public consultation that had only just started.
The Bloquistas want to know the reason that led the minister to announce in September the beginning of a test well in 2017, which decision had extended the term of the concession contract off Aljezur and whether the government now is willing activate the mechanisms to cancel that concession.
Anti-oil and gas activists at ASMAA have followed up with a well crafted letter to the President of the Republic copied to the President of the Assembly of the Republic, MPs, the Prime Minister, the President of the Council of Ministers, the Director General of the Directorate General of Natural Resources, Security and Maritime Services, and the rapporteur looking after ASMAA’s recent petition to parliament, questioning the dismissal of the 42,000 signatures it earlier had presented to parliament, and pointing out the Minister of the Sea’s blunder that lays bare the government’s real policy, rather than its pretend one.
ASMAA demand an immediate declaration that the licence granted to Galp-ENI should be scrapped as it was issued illegally and lists an ever expanding list of mistakes made in the concession and licensing processes in the areas of taxation, contract law, illegal concession extensions, illegal additions to contracts, an entirely fictitious public consultation process, the setting up of a support base in the port of Sines for an oil exploration programme that had yet to be licensed, and finally the Washington announcement by the Minister Ana Paula Vitorino that drilling was starting in 2017 - before the public consultation had barely got off the ground.
ASMAAS' Laurinda Seabra writes, "For ASMAA, this situation is not surprising, since the public consultation was only a diversionary maneuver, it never had serious objectives of complying with the law and having the citizens' contribution in the final decision."
As for Vitorino, she is carrying ion regardless and setting up a working group of experts whose mission will be to propose new marine areas to be designated as Protected Marine Areas. The announcement was made on March 3rd in Lisbon during her speech minister at the seminar "Portugal and the New Implementation Agreement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."
With this measure, Vitorino wants to respond to a national commitment to have 10% of the Portugal’s marine area in a new protected zone by 2020. But she is still after resources and still confused when claiming that the biological, mineral and energy resources that exist in Portugal’s vast maritime areas “open up the prospect of exploration which can make Portugal a reference, both from an economic point of view and, above all, as a protector of marine biodiversity."
Vitorino’s background is rooted onshore in ‘road, rail, port and airport infrastructure, logistics, transport interface management and urban mobility,’ according to her CV, so the full exploitation of Portugal’s ocean floors for minerals, the next horror story about to unfold in front of exhausted environmental organisations, is next on her list after she has overseen the establishment of an offshore oil and gas industry in Portugal’s seas.
Chillingly, the Minister of the Sea considered that the question now is the reconciliation of the protection of marine biodiversity with the economic rights of sovereign states. Her response is the "innovative technology and business models" will ensure man and nature live in perfect harmony, if she is in the job long enough after her last embarrassing blunder.
For a video of Vitorino's speech, click HERE
Source: Algarve Daily News