In fact, this is already the second drill hole in Aljubarrota. The first one happened in 2012 by Porto Energy, related to Mohave Oil and Gas, a Canadian company that enjoyed a ten year extraction program on land (onshore); until it went bankrupt in 2012. In this case, the only reason the extraction did not progress was simply because the gas column found at a depth of 3.200 meters was not economically feasible.
The technique to be potentially used after the prospection and during the extraction phase is called fracking – a non-conventional method – which consists of fracturing the rock in the subsoil using thousands of liters of water, a large amount of sand and highly toxic chemicals to extract the shale gas or oil trapped underground.
In the document presented by Australis for this new worksite, it is said that “potential impacts on the biophysical environment were identified (…) impacts of air quality, soil resources, noise and surface and groundwater resources, flora and fauna, cultural heritage, infrastructure and local economy “; and it is also admitted that “groundwater resources may be affected due to groundwater captation for the purposes of the project for the construction and operation phases in case it is not possible to acquire water from the local supply company as well as due to the potential pollution during the extraction phase “.
The law regulating the Environmental Impact Assessment says that prospecting projects using methods considered conventional can be exempted from evaluation because they are not yet extracting; even if there is an environmental impact and even if the prospection is aimed at moving towards extraction. The new hole in Aljubarrota has been subject to public consultation (article 3º/ 9 Decree-Law no. 152-B / 2017) – a non-binding and purely performative public participation instrument – to know whether or not it should be subject to EIA; but not all the necessary information was made available and those who participated in it only had the document produced by Australis itself.
This public consultation ended on 05/11/2018, and it is now up to the Portuguese Agency for the Environment (APA) to decide whether or not there will be an environmental impact assessment (AIA), which is essential to figure out the already foreseen and cited impacts – in a very superficial way – by Australis.
The information on whether this operation will resort to groundwater – an APA responsability – or directly to the public water supply network – a Water and Waste Services Regulatory Authority responsibility – was left out of this public consultation; as well as in what terms it will do so and what will be the local impact. It’s “Law as usual” and everything indicates that this public consultation will have the same purpose as the one that took place for the prospection in Aljezur: it was decided that there is no need for an environmental impact assessment and the prospection will be allowed to proceed.
There is a lot of confusion and lack of transparency in the negotiation process between the State and the economic agents; with some of the affected municipalities saying they were surprised by the news and others saying they were already informed in December 2015 during a meeting attended by all the mayors of the affected cities and the board of directors of ENMC.