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Environment Ministry & Oil and Gas exploration: A wolf in sheep's clothing?

Last year, the government of Antonio Costa did a major restructuring, and we saw “energy” being taken away from the Ministry of Economy and transferred to the Environment Ministry. The Environment Ministry was then renamed as the Ministry of Environment and Energetic Transition (Ministério do Ambiente e da Transição Energética).

The “justification” given by Antonio Costa at the time for this change is allegedly “a priority to manage effectively the energetic transition to mitigate the effects of climate change”, but was it the real reason? Or is there a hidden agenda?

Another change that took place was the restructuring of the ENMC, now renamed ENSE (Entidade Nacional para o Setor Energético) who until recently was the body responsible for the award of oil and gas exploration and exploitation of onshore and offshore gas and oil concessions and was integrated in the Ministry of Economy. The duties and responsibilities held by ENSE were then transferred to the DGEG (Direção-Geral da Energia e Geologia), a body that falls within the control of the Ministry of Environment.


The DGEG is now the body responsible for the management of the entire oil & gas exploration and exploitation licensing process, which include: prior assessment licenses, approve plans and projects, monitor and supervise the execution and fulfilment of the obligations of concessionaires and licensees; and to exercise, together with the Directorate General of Natural Resources, Safety and Maritime Services (DGRM) the licensing of fuel supply facilities located at ports and airports.

Furthermore, in carrying out its duties, the DGEG may be authorized by the government body responsible for the areas of energy and geological resources (in this case the Ministry of Environment) to participate in associations or other national and international organisations, to provide financial support or to enter into collaboration protocols with public enterprises, other parastatals and non-profit organizations which carry out activities of public, technical or scientific interest and support or promote technological innovation in the use of renewable energies, energy efficiency, competitiveness or sustainable use of energy and geological resources, or ensure sectorial representation in international organizations.



It all sounds so good doesn’t it?

It appears at first glance that the drive in the Environment Ministry is for a fast paced move to alternative energies, until we analyse the new regulations in greater detail. As usual the legal detail is ambiguous and full of holes. Intentional? I would argue that it is so!

If the government intention was really to move the country towards a cleaner energy environment, then oil & gas exploration would not be part of the same body that is responsible for ensuring and monitoring a safe environment and so called “decarbonisation of the planet”? Don’t you agree?


Blatant conflicts of interests?

Now let’s look at what is the Ministry of Environment mission:


"The Ministry of Environment, is the government department whose mission is to define, coordinate and implement environmental policies, land use planning, cities, housing, climate, nature conservation, energy, geology and eco-innovation, with a view to ensure the sustainable development and social and territorial cohesion; to ensure the planning and coordination of the implementation of national and Community funds in favor of the environment and improved quality of life ….”



Blimey … how does oil and gas exploration licensing process fit into a safe environmental and quality of life “watchdog” which is what the ministry of environment is supposed to be but isn’t?


A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which an organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, this relates to situations in which the personal interest of an organization might adversely affect a duty owed to make decisions for the benefit of a third party.


A widely used definition is: "A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest." Thus, primary interest refers to the principal goals of the activity, such as the protection of public interest, quality of life and environmental protection. Secondary interest refers then to the commercial and financial interest held by oil and gas companies, big oil funded universities, big oil funded - NGO’s, etc.



When one takes into account article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution it becomes even clearer that there is indeed blatant conflict of interest in this situation. Article 66 states: everyone has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. Being the government together with citizens responsible for ensuring a sustainable, safe and pollution free environment.


In the meanwhile during the legal process that ASMAA is involved with in court, and the actions taken by the Ministry of Environment to date in their legal defense, showcases how the interests of big oil corporations undermines and are in conflict with the protection of public interest and the environment.

In addition one just has to assess how the Environment Ministry has fast-tracked and / or attempts to fast track Environmental Impact Assessments and Studies submitted for approval by oil and gas companies in the past few months.

So in who's interest are the Ministry of Environment and their reporting bodies really acting for?


Are our rights really protected under these changes or has the Ministry of Environment become just another pro-oil lobby in the government? A wolf in sheep's clothing?


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