Just over one year after the previous government, on alleged instructions from the then Minister of Environment, Moreira da Silva got the ENMC to award and sign the controversial “fracking” contracts for 50% of the Algarve onshore region a few days before a national election; after a court interdict brought by the Algarve Municipal Association AMAL to cancel the contracts award, and after massive public outcry against the award of these contracts to Sousa Cintra’s Portfuel, we were faced with conflicting information this past week.
So what happened?
In an article published by the “O Publico” newspaper on 18 November 2016, Portfuel’s lawyer, André Duarte, claims that the deadline for the government to cancel the contracts has passed and that the government's lack of action to stop the process is "proof” that there was no legal basis to be able to terminate the contracts.
Sousa Cintra, a local millionaire businessman, says he will continue with his 'exploration to extraction' concession contracts and wonders why there is "so much confusion."
The State Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, diagrees and said today that "the Government is in no way inhibited from terminating the contract that the previous government authorised to be signed with Portfuel, granting it almost half the territory of the Algarve for oil and gas exploration."
The statement comes on the same day that Público reported that the government failed to block Sousa Cintra's oil exploration activities and that Portfuel is keeping its valid concession "after the government let the deadline pass for terminating the contracts.”
A confused Government said today that it may rescind the oil prospecting contract on the Algarve’s land, awarded to Sousa Cintra’s Portfuel company, but has missed the deadline within which to act.
The Government said that "it has been attentive to all oil exploration and extraction contracts" and recalls that on this occasion two sets of clarifications have been requested and the Consultative Council of the Attorney General's Office was asked "for a decision that best defends the public interest."
Sanches said that "nothing will be done that does not comply with the law and does not safeguard the public interest."
The president of Portfuel, Sousa Cintra, said that he is going to continue with the project, saying he does not understand why there is "so much noise and so much confusion" about a project that "can only benefit Portugal."
"Seriously, I can not understand so much noise and confusion around this project that might be worth a lot to the country, it just shows that people who speak have no real knowledge about things. Sometimes when you tell a lie many times, it becomes true, I regret this," said Sousa Cintra, continuing to claim that the project does not have any negative consequences for the environment.
The concession contracts for the Aljezur and Tavira concession areas were signed under the Passos Coelho administration by Paulo Carmona from the Entidade Nacional para o Mercado de Combustíveis (ENMC) - and Portfuel’s Sousa Cintra.
The current Socialist government asked the Consultative Council of the Attorney General's Office for an initial opinion on these onshore contracts. The council concluded that there was no reason to cancel the Portfuel concession contracts even thought Portfuel did not comply with several of the contract conditions.
However, the first opinion of the Attorney General's Office pointed out that the decision to award the contracts to Portfuel had been "a discretionary act of the previous Government. As such, Sousa Cintra had the legitimacy to move forward."
The Algarve mayors’ group AMAL,already has started a court action to stop the onshore and offshore drilling and extraction Algarve contracts going ahead and it will analyse and eventually challenge any 2017 work plan from Portfuel which “has to be validated by the laws of this country."
Despite the deadline for cancelling Portfuel’s contracts having passed, "We are trying to gather all the information and the Government will make a decision very soon," assured the Office of the Secretary of State for Energy.
"We have already sent information to the Attorney General's Office three times," said the same source, claiming that "no deadline has been reached" for the Government to be able to terminate the contracts with Portfuel.