The seminar was followed on 20 October by two real-life scenario exercises for oil spill emergency management - one in the offshore 3 miles from Praia da Rocha, and the second in the Portimão marina. (More info here in Portuguese only). We not going to focus on the practical exercises of the 20th, but instead we will focus on our observations from the parts of the seminar that we attended.
We are just thankful that we found out about the event in time, as the event was only published on the Navy’s website on the 17th at 9h10am, being a very short notice in our opinion.
Our personal opinion based on our observation of the first session of the event
One area of regret is the fact that as far as we are aware, civic society, NGOs and environmental groups involved in the anti-oil campaign in the Algarve where not informed or even invited to attend, and personally, I believe that it was an opportunity lost for showing good faith and a spirit of transparency in the part of government, especially as both Repsol and ENI where invited to send representatives as speakers, coupled with the fact that NGOs are indeed acknowledged as one of the pillars of support in Portugal as well. This was clearly demonstrated by one of the navy speakers in one of the presentation slides.
What really gave rise for concern is that normally local NGOs, community groups and the general public are involved in clean-up operations anywhere in the world where a serious oil spill has occurred, and leaving them out of the invitee list was short sighted in our opinion.
It was sadly a lost opportunity to engage with local anti-oil and gas exploration groups.
During question time, I thanked the organisers for the event, and let them know that we were deeply disappointed to see both Repsol and ENI represented in the speaker’s panel, as after all they had not as yet been authorised or issued with TUPEM licences.
I stated that there was over 42, 000 objections to its award and found it strange that they were present. I further informed all present that we believe that the oil and gas should be left in the ground and that no drilling should take place.
The day seminar focused on the Portuguese readiness to deal with offshore oil and gas spills and marine based accidents.
The seminar started with the Portimão Mayor thanking the Navy for the seminar, and she took the opportunity to highlight the fact that the Algarve’s economic sustainability is based on various tourism resources and oil clean seas and beaches. She also briefly touched on the oil spill in Sines a few weeks ago, and related how important it is for Portugal to be ready and well trained to deal with such risks. She welcomed the initiative.
This was followed by a brief overview of the responsiveness of Portugal, and an introduction of all the participating bodies and authorities that will be involved in the process.
To get a better picture of Portugal’s readiness to deal with these types of risks, I invite you to read a dissertation in the attachment below (in Portuguese), which gives a fair assessment of Portugal and substantiates much of what was disclosed yesterday.
The ASMAA team is glad to know that the Portuguese authorities are doing their bit to ensure our safety from any oil and gas spills in our offshore areas, what raised serious concerns in our minds was the fact that both Repsol Norway - (interesting but not surprising choice as Norway oil and gas exploration is always used as an example by Portuguese leaders) - and ENI Portugal where invited as guest speakers with each having been allocated 15 minute presentations.
Overview of the Repsol Norway Presentation
Repsol Norway’s representative (Mr. Hebnes) started his presentation by stating how much he loved being in Portugal, how he enjoyed the country as it is a beautiful place. If it weren’t for the fact that we respected the organisers, we would have asked straight away, why is his employer hell bent on destroying its natural beauty, with offshore drilling.
Anyway, be that as it may; let’s look at what he did say.
He went to great lengths to convince the audience, that Norway is a country that takes seriously its oil and gas health and safety aspects, and that Repsol has an unblemished record in Norway. He stated that Norway is a leader in the oil industry, and that there have never been any environmental risks, oil spills and disasters in the country. Basically he indicated that Norway’s record is whiter than white when it comes to the industry, and that Portugal will benefit from its record.
He supported that by saying that Repsol is also one of the “owners” of “Oil Spill Response (OSRL)”, a company set-up by a group of international oil and gas companies to deal with offshore oil and gas spills. And that in the unlikelihood of oil spills in our waters, then this organisation (OSRL) that works for them (Repsol), would take over the management of such a risk, and Repsol’s responsibility in that case scenario would be one of talking to authorities and the press.
During question time I asked:
Taking into account that Norway is a country that Portuguese leader’s always refer too as a perfect example, can he explain why Greenpeace demanded the cancellation of all new concessions in the Arctic yesterday and confronted the Norwegian government with legal action? Does that not indicate that the Norwegian people do not want any more oil exploration, and wants it left in the ground? So why should Portugal open its waters to Repsol?
I’m not aware of the court case, all I know is what I read in the press this morning. Repsol would anyway consult with NGO’s like Greenpeace before doing any drilling. They believe in dialoguing with stakeholders before any operation.
I decided not to ask any further questions, but I would still like to know, if that is indeed Repsol’s policy, why haven’t they consulted with local stakeholders in the Algarve till now? But that is a question for another day.
- Portugal versus Norway (Portuguese)
- Saying NO to Oil Exploration: Norway taken to court over Arctic Oil
- Norwegian Youth Taking Government to Court Over 'Unconstitutional' Arctic Drilling
Overview of the ENI Portugal Presentation
The ENI health and safety manager for Portugal operations, Mr. Marconi, spent most of his time providing information about the ENI structure and ownership of 30% by the Italian government.
He then shared with the audience the fact that ENI in his opinion always takes health and safety very seriously. He briefly shared some basic information about standard safety and health procedures. And finished by stating that ENI always operates with maxim focus on safety issues as they are very diligent and do not have an history of safety breaches.
During question time I asked:
How can we truly trust ENI, when ENI is reputed to have a very poor safety record? Not to mention all the allegations about corruption?
His response was as follows:
ENI Portugal will follow all the required procedures to ensure safety.
Some further reading:
- ENI's Goliat field in Norway hit by a gas leak
- Moody’s downgrades Saipem the company that owns the drill ship expected in Aljezur's offshore
- August 2015: Saipem under investigation over bribery in Brazil
- Crime em Aljezur tem impacto no Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e na Costa Vicentina.
After the first session, only ASMAA asked questions during the first debate phase. We posed all questions at the same time, and once we finished there was a stunned silence. You could hear a pin drop. We were surprised that the Repsol and ENI representatives took their time to respond. Guess that nobody expected the types of questions that we posed.
What we realised, is that government is continuing with the oil and gas drilling process as if there are no objections from the general population.
It appears that its business as usual, addressing just the demands of the oil companies while putting at risk the livelihoods of all the people of the Algarve, and subjecting our nature to unnecessary risks.
But the fact is that WE the people of the Algarve do not want oil and gas exploration. This has been supported by over 42, 000 objections to offshore drilling already.
We believe that we at ASMAA have a duty and responsibility to run a civic society driven regional people referendum next year in the Algarve, so as to give a clear mandate to government on whether the people want offshore drilling or not. And we will do so …