Government gives definitive go-ahead to oil exploration off the Canary Islands

Energy firm Repsol says it will begin surveys later this year, and expects results by early 2015

The Spanish government on Wednesday published in the official state gazette the definitive go-ahead for energy company Repsol to prospect for oil off the coast of the Canary Islands despite opposition from the regional government and local population there.

Repsol has been given three years to carry out surveys off the coast of the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. The company says the search for hydrocarbons will begin in full by the end of this year and that it expects to have the first results by early 2015. In the event that it finds hydrocarbons, the company would request a production license and begin extraction.

Among the 14 conditions laid down by the government for Repsol to begin exploration is a €40 million civil responsibility policy, along with a €20 million fund to cover any environmental responsibility costs.

The company is also required to stop all activities in the event of any kind of accident, as well as providing access to a range of inspections over the course of the exploration process.

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Repsol has refused to comment on the go-ahead, saying only that it will comply with all government requirements.

The two wells Repsol plans to drill 55 kilometers offshore could yield as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day, says the firm, which estimates that the Canary Islands could provide 10 percent of Spain’s hydrocarbon needs. Repsol’s environmental impact report says the chance of a blowout is one in 50,000, and that even in the event of such an accident, it has adequate safety and prevention measures in place. Were an accident to take place, it adds, any oil spill would likely affect the African coastline.

The Canary Islands regional government, which is run by the nationalist center-right Canaries Coalition grouping, says it will appeal against the decision, and that the exploration process is “plagued with irregularities.”

The government’s plans to develop the Canaries’ hydrocarbons potential have rallied local people in opposition. Environmentalists say the environmental impact of oil production on the islands’ rich and varied marine life will be catastrophic. In the event of any kind of spill or accident, the islands’ tourism sector, which contributes almost a third of GDP, will be negatively affected, as would fishing and seawater, which is desalinated and used for household purposes.

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