The Algarve’s offshore could be rich in natural gas and provide for Portugal’s needs for “between 12 and 15 years,” according to António Costa Silva, President of Partex Oil and Gas (Holdings) Corporation, an oil company which is owned by the Lisbon-based Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
In an interview with Lusa News Agency earlier this week, Mr. Silva said: “There is a geological formation that comes from the Gulf of Cadiz in Southern Spain and runs on to the Algarve’s offshore, where there are some blocks that could potentially have gas, which could be up to 20 times more than was discovered in the Poseidon field of Southern Spain explored by Repsol.”
That same company “has won the tender for the Algarve’s two blocks,” located south-east of Cape Saint Vincent, but the exploration contract has not yet been signed “because of the authorities’ inertia and worries from the regional tourism industry.”
Mr. Silva considers that pressure from the tourism “lobby” is the reason behind the project’s delay, adding that there are no reasons to worry about its environmental impact.
“These worries are acceptable, but they have no basis. There are no black tides caused by gas exploration projects because it simply evaporates when it reaches the surface,” said Mr. Silva, adding that gas was explored off one of the most touristic coasts of Spain without any problems.
The gas towers would also “be 50 kilometres from the Portuguese coast,” out of “tourists’ sight,” and with proven technology for these depths “this is a project that should be supported,” he said.
Speaking about Portugal’s underwater resources as a whole, the President of Partex said that the country’s underwater continental shelf hides a treasure trove of copper, nickel, cobalt, gold, silver, natural gas and methane, waiting to be mapped.
The value, location and amounts are yet to be quantified, but the government’s plan to expand the continental shelf, which by 2018 should double Portugal’s area to four million kilometres squared, proves its interest in these resources.
Portugal could have a fortune buried under the sea, with the exploration of methane hydrocarbons representing a large part of that fortune.
Under the sea, methane forms from the decomposition of organic material deposited on the sea bed, becoming imprisoned in water molecules that exist as ice from 100 metres depth caused by the low temperature and enormous pressure.
Mr. Silva considers that “if it is well used, it could be an extraordinary energy source for the planet. Calculations today show that methane alone could supply the planet with energy for the next 350 years.”
He goes on to explain that “the energy content of methane is double that of fossil fuels and could be an attractive source of energy as long as technological and environmental solutions are found.”
By 2018, Mr. Silva hopes that methane will have moved on to being a commercialised product, with the mapping of reserves being a top priority for the country, “attracting multinationals and universities to invest in resources that could be immense”.
Tiago Pitta e Cunha, the President’s consultant on marine affairs said that he agrees with these arguments and reminds people that in 2004 the Strategic Commission for the Oceans dedicated a whole chapter to the study of mineral resources off Portugal’s coast.
“At the time, methane was promising to be a high value energy source for the planet,” and it could be a way for Portugal to guarantee “energy security,” he said, adding that methane deposits exist in great quantities on continental shelves in the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. Pitta e Cunha considers that the expansion of national territory underwater should motivate the country to “become innovative and have the technological capacity for exploration.”
“If Portugal doesn’t do it, others will, and we will end up handing over the exploration rights of resources that are ours, to third parties,” he said.