An unholy alliance between the government and the Australian energy company Australis has seen the Sanctuary of Fátima included in an oil and gas exploration zone – with fracking a real possibility.
An urgent appeal has been posted by leading anti-oil and gas organisation, ASMAA, which asks all Catholics, there are around eight million in Portugal, to write to their MPs and government, and come to a demonstration in Lisbon.
A demonstration already was scheduled for the 21 December in front of Assembleia da República, Portugal’s Parliament building. This was planned to coincide with a debate on one of ASMAA’s petitions objecting to deep offshore drilling.
The realisation that one of the onshore oil and gas exploration concession blocks covers one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world – the Sanctuary of Fátima which attracts between five million and six million visitors a year – has led ASMAA to call on Catholics worldwide to protest at the potential incursion of an oil and gas business into hallowed ground.
The association has been leading the fight against oil and gas exploration in Portugal, a commercial activity sanctioned and encouraged by government despite Portugal’s enviable renewable energy potential and CO2 reduction agreements.
In terms of the ‘open government’ the current administration is keen to promote, the oil and gas concessions and licensing procedures deliberately have been shrouded in secrecy, misinformation and duplicity. Now, with the possibility of fracking a very real one, despite the technology’s track record of poisoning water supplies and triggering earth tremors, ASMAA is exhorting the government to scrap all the offshore and onshore concession areas and scrap the exploration-to-extraction licences already issued.
Laurinda Seabra, ASMAA’s driving force, writes that her team checked and re-checked the coordinates for the exploration area signed over to Australis, “but the result was always the same – in its centenary year, the Sanctuary of Fátima is in an oil and gas exploration zone.”
The concession area was licensed to Australis Oil and Gas Portugal on 30 September, 2015 – days before the general election that saw the Passos Coelho right wing coalition out of office and the new, bright, transparent Socialist Party gain control in an election platform that included promises of developing renewable energy sources and moving away from dependence on oil and gas.
The government’s PR strategy has been to promote the idea that by having oil pumped from domestic offshore and onshore wells for processing, the country will be spending less on hydrocarbon energy supplies. The only potential national benefit is to the taxman, but the royalty agreements have been criticised as poor value for the taxpayer with low percentages and ‘after all exploration costs are covered’ clauses.
The dis-benefits, argues the environmental lobby, are legion, very real and potentially catastrophic with Portugal’s coastal economy now largely dependent on tourism which requires clean air, peaceful countryside, pristine beaches and zero oil spillage.
The Catholic angle may prove to be a trump card for the environmental protest group and it will be interesting to see how the government responds to the obvious blunder of having allowed an internationally significant Catholic shrine to become the focus for a protest movement dedicated to spreading the word.