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19 August 2017
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Europe looks to improve oil rig safety

in News · 15-05-2010 00:00:00 · 0 Comments

As the oil slick off the southern coast of the United States continues to grow by more than 200,000 gallons of crude a day, European officials have moved to ensure a disaster of similar proportions is averted here. A Florida-based sea-current expert has told The Portugal News that the chances of the slick reaching Portuguese shores are “extremely unlikely”. Meanwhile, opposition here is growing to proposed plans for drilling off the Algarve coast.

Europe looks to improve oil rig safety

European Commissioner Günther Oettinger this week gathered leading members of the oil and gas production industry to ensure all is done to avoid disasters such as the one currently taking place in the United States.
“No regulatory regime alone can give us 100 percent guarantees of safety”, Mr Oettinger said in a statement this week, adding: “I wish to make sure that the necessary legislation is in place and effectively implemented and that, at the same time, all possible efforts are made by the industry to avoid a similar accident and consequent oil spill.
“Politics and business need to work together to ensure that the European environment and the public are as safe as they possibly can be”, concluded the Commissioner.
While the EU has admitted that oil and gas exploration and production operations off-shore in Europe are not taking place in the same extreme conditions as those in the Gulf of Mexico, the EU must also deal with the possibility of an accident near its shore.
In the meeting between, EU Commissioner Oettinger and high level representatives of major oil and gas companies, the EU sought to gain reassurance that the public can feel safe about continued off-shore operations near the EU coast.
The meeting reportedly also served as an opportunity for the Commissioner of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva to present the ‘Preparedness and Response Plans’ to marine pollution incidents.
The European Commission stressed this week that in case of accidents, offshore drilling operations are subject to the relevant EU environmental legislation, including directives on environmental impact assessment, habitats and wild birds’ directives, environmental liability, and the Water Framework directive for coastal waters.
While the responsibility lies with the affected coastal state, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) supports the pollution response actions.
EMSA has a fleet of oil recovery vessels under contract in the different EU seas, which can be mobilized on request under the Civil Protection Mechanism of the EU.
Meanwhile, Tony Sturges, a professor emeritus in oceanography at Florida State University, has this week quelled concerns that the powerful Gulf Stream could push the oil slick across the Atlantic Ocean to wash up on Portuguese shores.
A so-called Loop Current emanates in the warm Caribbean waters before travelling in a clockwise pattern toward Florida, when it ends up as one of the ocean’s strongest conveyer belts known as the Gulf Stream, which travels from west to east.
Concerns were raised this week that the slick could eventually reach Europe, but Professor Sturges, without completely ruling out this possibility, believes such a scenario is improbable as things stand now.
“Anyone who tells you they know the answer is being wildly optimistic; we can all give you a good guess”, he told The Portugal News from Florida this week.
“My own personal guess is that it is extremely unlikely that anything from this spill could reach the coast of Europe for many, many months,” assured Professor Sturges.
“It is more likely that you could have your own spill than that this one will harm your shores”, he added referring to the 2002 Prestige oil disaster which had prolonged adverse affects on the beaches of Portugal, Spain and France.
“We do not know if the spill will hit the east coast of Florida” let alone Europe, he added.
Earlier, Tony Sturges had told National Geographic that if the oil were to be swept up into the Loop Current — which moves at about 1 to 2 metres a second — “there’s essentially no way to stop it.”
“Once [oil] gets into the loop current, you can bet the farm it will go around to the south” of the Florida Peninsula and into the Gulf Stream, which hugs Florida’s eastern coast, he added.
“If you’re at the top of a hotel in Miami Beach, you can see the Gulf Stream,” Sturges revealed, and that means oil may easily wash ashore on the state’s famous beaches.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese government has this week been called upon not to sign a contract that will allow oil exploration off the Algarve coast.
Bearing in mind the risk of a possible environmental disaster in the Algarve, Mendes Bota MP has demanded the government reassess plans to sign contracts.
Mendes Bota has been a long-time campaigner against attempts by the government to turn the region into what he described would become “a gigantic drilling field.”
However, the State Secretary for Tourism, Bernardo Trindade, told reporters in Faro that the concerns of Mendes Bota are “lateral issues” and they are not “currently up for discussion, nor do they deserve any sort of comment”.
But Mendes Bota, while saying the fact that these contracts could be signed in the very near future “is an extremely disconcerting development”, has also filed a parliamentary request over the amount being paid by oil companies for the right to search for oil off the Algarve coast.
The issue of oil exploration in southern Portugal has died down in recent years after reaching fever pitch in 2007. Back then, the government shrugged off concerns from interest groups in the Algarve, especially those linked to the tourist industry regarding news oil companies would be initiating exploration activities off the region’s coastline.
With the project on ice for several years now, authorities in the Algarve had grown increasingly optimistic that plans of building oil platforms off the region’s coast would remain on paper and not be transformed into reality.
Three years ago, Lisbon authorities had said that oil exploration in the Algarve had not yet commenced solely due to difficulties in “reconciling the agendas of Repsol and RWE” to sign Portuguese government contracts.
The Spanish and German companies (Repsol and RWE Dea, respectively) reportedly paid the Portuguese state 286,000 euros for rights to drill in the Algarve.
Mendes Bota voiced his disgust to The Portugal News in 2007, saying: “This is unbelievable – it is like being punched in the stomach. I have to keep pinching myself - is this April 1st or something? What a terrible joke!”
“Here in the Algarve our oil is tourism. Can you imagine the negative impact oil exploration platforms will have on the environment? It does not matter how far off shore they are - oil spillage does not respect distance.”
He claims that tourism represents the country’s principle industry and for the government to even consider putting it at risk was “astonishing”. He recently added that an oil spill could cause prolonged damaged to Algarve beaches, coupled with the negative impact oil platforms will have on eco-systems.
The areas in question, which cover more than six thousand square kilometres, known as Block 13 and Block 14, lie between Quarteira and Vila Real Santo António.
Drilling, should it take place, is expected to occur at a depth of 200 metres, with the area off the protected Ria Formosa detected with promising indications that oil could in fact exist not too far from the coastline.
According to the terms of the 2007 proposed contract, the initial period for exploration is over a period of eight years, with a clause existing for future extension should both signatories believe the project to remain a viable one.
It is estimated that in the event of an oil discovery, the state will receive 25 cents a barrel in Block 13 and 10 cents in Block 14.
The two blocks have been named Lagosta and Lagostim.
Upon an eventual oil discovery, the companies will immediately be entitled to a 30-year exploration period in the Algarve, which could be extended to up to 55 years.
This particular area of the Algarve has already been subject to searches for oil in the past.
In 1974, Chevron and Challenger were awarded short-term contracts and Esso back in 1980.
However, the two companies currently in question, while seeing it fit to spend the money to obtain the drilling rights, were the sole applicants in a tender launched in July 2003.
Scientists have regularly expressed the opinion that Portugal contains all the necessary ingredients to be an oil producer, but drilling from Oporto in the north and Leiria further south, has to date only resulted in the extraction of 1,600 barrels of oil.
Brendan de Beer

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Edition 1437
19 August 2017
Edition: 1437

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

Twitter