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Ibiza oil rig update

Pivotal in the fight against the Ibiza oil rig project, Spanish environmental lawyer José Ortega held a public conference in Ibiza Town this week with the latest update. Here’s the lowdown.

As many are aware, plans have been afoot for some time now to begin the first of three stages in a hunt for oil and natural gas in the Balearic Sea, around the islands of Ibiza, Formentera, Menorca and Mallorca. The Scottish company responsible for the project is Cairn Energy and for the full background story, check out our previous article.

The story so far

When we put out the call back in January this year to support the island in its fight against the widely condemned Ibiza oil project, many thousands of you responded. In fact, over 33,000 people worldwide responded to Ibiza's cry for help, sending petitions in the post, in Spanish, in triplicate, in time for the deadline to present to the Spanish government. A truly Herculean, international attempt was made to paralyse the Ibiza oil project before it could even begin. As residents of this amazing island we call home, we were astonished and beyond grateful for the passionate, protective response from Ibiza lovers all over the World.

The lawyer

Since then, we've had many enquiries from people wanting to know what happened as a result and what the latest situation is. And Spanish environmental lawyer, José Ortega, instrumental in the legal battle against the powerful oil companies is the man who knows more than anyone, what is going on.

So below, we present a summary of the main points covered by Mr. Ortega during his public conference last Thursday at Club Diario, Ibiza for those of you who may wish to be informed of the latest situation.

The background

Firstly, to qualify José Ortega, he is a lawyer who has much experience in fighting corporations and even the Spanish government against environmentally hazardous projects, particularly involving the Spanish coastal and marine territories. Based in Valencia, Mr. Ortega spends his time locked in intense negotiations to prevent what he sees as an ‘abuse' of national, regional and European law by corporations bent on making profits at any cost. Indeed, back in 2009, he forced the government to change the law in order to better protect Spain's coastal environment from the damaging ravages of industry. He is still fighting to keep the entire Mediterranean an oil industry free zone.

The legalities

Mr Ortega explained that although the Spanish government have not withdrawn permission for the project, neither have they given it the final green light, obliged as they are, to consider the 33,000 petitions against the project, made on both environmental and economic grounds.

Cairn Energy, after being highly criticised by many, including international organisations such as Greenpeace for their dismally inadequate environmental impact study, are now obliged to address all the points raised in the petitions against their plans. They must prove that their project is financially viable as well as environmentally permissible and they have limited time in which to do it. This, confided Mr Ortega, due partly to the current drop in the price of oil and partly due to the project's negative environmental impact, is highly unlikely to happen. His job, he assured the audience, was to make sure of that by making the oil company's job as difficult and expensive as possible. And he has a wealth of experience in doing just that.

The controversy

Controversially, Mr Ortega criticised not just Cairn Energy and the government, but also local politicians, ostensibly against the prospections. Environmental organisation Greenpeace received criticism too, funded, insisted Mr Ortega, by the Rockefeller Foundation, historically one of the World's biggest investors in the oil industry. Criticising what he called their ‘pure theatre,' Mr Ortega complained that these organisations and individuals were simply going through the motions of appearing to be against the prospections, whilst in reality, doing nothing helpful to stop them. Moreover, he expressed concern, based on information from marine conservation groups involved in monitoring seismic activity at sea, that ‘secret' unlicensed and illegal acoustic surveys had already begun.

Mr Ortega drew attention furthermore to regular donations to the tune of €30,000 per year made by both Cairn Energy and Capricorn, its Spanish subsidiary, to the government, pointing out that these payments, whilst being perhaps morally questionable, were entirely legal. With ‘donations' such as these being fed by the oil companies to the government, commented Mr Ortega wrily, it was hardly surprising to find governmental, judicial and partisan support for the oil project, despite massive local opposition.

The profits

Mr Ortega went on to explain that the technology for clean, renewable energy was available and had been for a long time. To make such dangerous incursions for fossil fuels into the environmentally delicate marine bed, he argued, was absolutely unnecessary. He continued, asserting that technological advances in these areas were routinely suppressed by profit-hungry corporations determined to protect their profits at any cost.

Mr Ortega reserved special contempt for Spanish energy minister José Soría, a staunch supporter of the oil project who professes to believe that any oil found on Spanish territory will mean cheaper energy for Spain and increased employment.

However, these claims have been roundly dismissed by those opposing the plan such as Mr Ortega, who argue that any oil found would belong to Cairn Energy, not Spain, who would have to buy it on the open market like everyone else. Moreover, any employment created would not necessarily be given to Spanish workers, but foreign workers on lower wages.

The future

It seems that the legal and political battle rages on. We'll bring any important updates as they reach us. A massive thank you goes out to José Ortega and his tireless work, given freely, to protect Ibiza from grave environmental threat and to you dear reader, for your support for the island and taking the time to read this update. The clearest thing to emerge is that Ibiza continues to say a resolute no, to oil drilling in its ancient, beautiful, crystal clear seas and this at least, seems unlikely to change.

You can see Mr Ortega's full presentation below, currently only available in Spanish.


WORDS | Jane Charilaou PHOTOS | Jane Charilaou

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