Europe and Central Asia
13 Nov 2018

Victory! Oil drilling plans off Portuguese coast stopped after NGOs' legal action

But the battle continues...

Northern Gannet
© Merijn Van Den Bosch
By Sonia Neves

Petrol companies Galp and Eni have abandoned their plans to drill for oil and gas off the southwest coast of Portugal, according to their press release issued last week. This decision follows a hard-won victory for conservationists who fought the plan in court – and are still grappling with legal costs.

With the support of Portuguese government, Galp-Eni intended to drill for oil and gas off the Algarve, right next to a protected area. A coalition of local and national environmental NGOs, including SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and other concerned parties, including private citizens, have fought against this plan in court. They argued that drilling here not only poses a serious risk to an important natural heritage site, but also to the lives and livelihoods of people in a region that is heavily dependent on tourism.

After a long, convoluted process, the court temporarily suspended the group’s license in August, preventing the drilling which was due to start in September. Meanwhile, environmentalists were moving forward with legal action to permanently revoke the access. Although both the Portuguese government and the Galp-Eni group were appealing the court’s decision, their press release indicates that they have given up on their plans. The legal implications of the announcement, alongside the Portuguese government’s position on the matter, are still unclear.

The NGOs who led this battle to victory are still trying to cover the costs of the legal action. You can contribute to their crowdfunding campaign to help pay their legal fees here:

The proposed drill-site, off the West coast of the Algarve, sits just outside an area which is protected under both the Birds and Habitats Directives, and is proposed to become a Marine Protected Area under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The area is important for migratory cetaceans such as Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus) who use it in their journeys between the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. It also hosts Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) – species whose echolocation would be seriously impacted by the noise this work would create. Drilling for oil and gas in the region would also pose risks for the migratory seabirds that use the area as a flyway, such as the threatened Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) and the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus).

The day-to-day operations at a drill site – not to mention the serious destruction that could be created by potential oil leaks or spills – would pose serious threats to the diversity of life in this area, from the reefs near the shore to the deep sea habitats of an underwater canyon. Vulnerable species such as the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca), Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus), Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), and Red Coral (Corallium rubrum) could be at risk.


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