Letters from the Atlantic: Drilling for Black Gold
There have been quite a few celebrations in the Canary Islands recently, following the decision of the Spanish oil company, Repsol, not to continue with its exploration for oil off the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
The islands are an important tourist destination, and the threat of oil production taking place off the waters of these beautiful islands has shocked and angered residents for many years. The sea around these coasts is rich with marine life and the threat of serious, permanent ecological damage seemed to be only a matter of time. Despite all the reassurances from assorted ranks of politicians and ‘experts’, most people recognised that oil cannot be extracted with complete environmental safety. It short, it would be an accident waiting to happen.
The Islands’ Government was also vehemently opposed to the proposals, which provoked a ‘head on’ constitutional clash with the Spanish Government. There were reviews, court challenges and appeals, debates, fierce arguments, protest marches, petitions, as well as serious threats that the Canary Islands should seek separation from Spain if the islanders’ wishes were not to be taken into account over this sensitive issue.
Finally, it looked as if the environmentalists had reached the end of a long and arduous journey, with the battle being lost to the oil company and the Spanish Government. Following pleas from the Spanish Prime Minister, Spain’s Constitutional Court stepped into the argument to prevent the long anticipated islands’ referendum from taking place, and the exploration work of digging 2000 metres below sea level began. Islanders watched with horror as the rigs and all the attendant paraphernalia moved into place.
Not surprisingly, Spain’s Government hoped that a generous discovery of oil so close to home would help to ease its troubled bank balance, provide much needed employment, as well as reducing its reliance upon oil and gas supplies from Russia. It was envisaged that once oil production was fully operational, around 110,00 barrels of oil each day would flow from the islands, which is around 10 per cent of Spain’s consumption of oil.
Despite being originally billed as potentially the largest discovery of oil in Spanish history, it was not to be. A statement from the company concluded that although oil and gas lie beneath the seabed, they are of poor quality, and of insufficient quantity to make the expensive business of extraction viable. The company decided to no longer pursue the business of extraction in the area and the oil rigs quietly moved away from the exploration site, leaving the islanders to heave huge sighs of relief.
Poor geological survey results, together with an acute fall in oil prices, will hopefully mean that the area will be forgotten as a potential source of riches for years to come. Meanwhile, the Government has come up with another good idea, which is all set to cause another huge row with residents in the affected areas. How about a spot of fracking in another region of Spain?
Barrie Mahoney was a head teacher and school inspector in the UK, as well as a reporter in Spain, before moving to the Canary Islands to launch and edit a new English language newspaper. He enjoys life in the sun as a columnist and author, and continues to write a series of popular novels, books for expats, as well as designing mobile apps and websites to promote the Canary Islands.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle, iBooks and Google Play editions.
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