Government offices raided in oil and gas licensing investigation
Police investigators are on the anti-oil trail, with searches last Wednesday at the offices of the National Entity for the Fuel Market (ENMC) and the Directorate General of Energy and Geology (DGEG).
The reason is that the environmental association, ASMAA, lodged a complaint nearly a year ago about the illegality of the oil drilling concessions and licences covering vast areas off the Portuguese coast.
The Ministry of the Economy confirmed that the DGEG had been searched by police officers, but did not fell like elaborating.
Sources at Correio da Manhã, which reported the story on Saturday, said they know that Polícia Judiciária inspectors went to the two offices following complaints by ASMAA.
ASMAA’s case comes up in court this February, arguing that all the concessions have been issued illegally as the law used to chop Portugal sea and land areas into exploration blocks, and issue exploration and drilling licences, has been twisted beyond recognition.
In its February 2017 submission to the Attorney General’s Office, ASMAA invoked the unconstitutionality of Decree 109/94, citing, “substantial changes to the contract through illicit additions, tax fraud and gross management of surface rent, gross negligence due to lack economic and environmental impact studies and cost-benefit relationships, the absence and measures to ensure the protection and security of public domain assets, and constitutional rights such as the right to the environment, quality of life and public health.”
ASMAA and other associations clearly mean business and the government now in at its fall-back position, of, ‘no new concessions will be granted during the lifetime of this government.’ With an election coming up this autumn and the likelihood that the Socialists will be returned to power, this period is to end and a new one soon will begin.
The government is aware of the extraordinarily good job the anti-oil groups have done in publicising the threat that these energy companies pose to the environment and, with the Algarve’s population, business groups and mayors all united against drilling on and offshore, the last thing the prime minister needs is that the oil question becomes an election issue.
PM António Costa has managed temporarily to placate many activists but the fact remains that several oil and gas concessions are still valid and active, for example the Austrian energy minnow, Australis Oil & Gas, intends to start drilling for gas at its onshore concession areas early this year.
The ASMAA case will be heard in Loulé Court in February and it remains to be seen what Police inspectors have managed to dig up at the two offices that have been dealing with the energy companies and their concession and licence applications.
Correio da Manhã says that, although the complaint was from an Algarve association, (ASMAA) the documentation collected in the raids by investigators relates to all current and past oil concessions in Portugal.
In addition to suspicions surrounding the Galp-ENI consortium and its suspiciously one-sided contract, there is the case of Sousa Cintra’s company, Portfuel (HERE), whose activities were suspended and, later, its licence revoked, after gross breaches in the contract provisions.
Questions remain as to how this company was awarded a concession licence as it had no employees, no track record and even failed to provide the necessary insurance.
When Portfuel ran into trouble, Sousa Cintra’s reaction was that, he had got the concession deals on the say-so of high-up government figures, so all would be resolved.
It is hoped that records held at the National Entity for the Fuel Market and the Directorate General of Energy and Geology will prove of disprove many of the suspicions that continue to swirl around those politicians and civil servants whose idea of ‘public service’ may have been more like, self-service.