Photo: Council Opposes Oil Search off Coast of Spain's Canary Islands
Elected officials in the Canary Islands plan to ask Spain’s Supreme Court to block plans for oil exploration in the Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa.
A majority of the local council on the island of Lanzarote voted to file a motion with the high court seeking enforcement of its 2004 ruling suspending the oil prospecting project led by Spain’s Repsol-YPF on a technicality.
Councilors from Spain’s ruling conservative Popular Party opposed the move to block the project.
An earlier PP administration had initially approved the project in 2001, although it was shelved while a Socialist government was in power from 2004 until late last year.
Lanzarote’s local council rejected what it termed a “lack of respect” by the Industry, Energy and Tourism Ministry, led by Canarian Jose Manuel Soria, “in authorizing oil prospecting without responding to concerns” raised by local officials.
Soria said after the go-ahead was given for the project last Friday that it will take place 61 kilometers (38 miles) off the coasts of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
He insisted that Spain, which imports nearly all of the 1.4 million barrels of oil it consumes daily, cannot afford not to tap production capacity equivalent to 10 percent of that total, according to the most pessimistic forecasts.
Lanzarote’s council also denounced the “urgency” with which the project was authorized, saying Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government should have waited until new European Union guidelines on oil prospecting enter into force.
The legislative measure will be sent to the Canary Islands’ representatives in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid.
The council’s president, Pedro San Gines, underscored the threat that Repsol’s project represents for Lanzarote’s maritime biodiversity and its tourism-based economic development model.
The livelihoods of 90 percent of the population depend on tourism, which in turn is based on the region’s “environmental quality,” he said, adding that oil prospecting will endanger catchment of desalinated sea water, the only source of water for human consumption and Lanzarote’s agricultural and tourism industries.
Repsol, for its part, says that if the potential of the offshore area is confirmed it would mark “the biggest hydrocarbon discovery in Spain’s history.”
A thorough environmental-impact study is to be completed by the end of 2014, after which time the first exploratory drilling could be conducted to determine the zone’s potential.
The company projects that a decision on investment in that region may occur by around 2016 and initial oil production could begin by around 2019 or 2020.