Last Friday energy giant Repsol announced that it was putting an end to its oil and gas exploration in Canary Island waters, saying that reserves are too small and of too poor quality.
In 2012, the oil company requested authorisation for three exploratory oil wells in ultra-deep waters off the coast of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, in an area that highest density of whale and dolphin populations in Europe and which biological diversity of fish stocks is internationally known.
Despite recent statements by Mr Cañete - the former Spanish environment minister who conducted the bulk of the authorisation steps, now European Commissioner responsible for energy and climate - about the compliance of the project with EU legislation, international experts had informed the Commission of the existence of fundamental shortcomings in the assessment of the project’s impact on the ecosystems protected under the EU ‘Habitats Directive’ and with regard to risk management and preventive measures and particularly potential accidents.
Last year the Greens had done its utmost to help the local citizens - who have been fighting for a long time against drilling in their region and who launched their own campaign against oil drilling in the Canary Islands - to make their voice heard in the European institutions. A historical day for this struggle was 18th October 2014, when the international action "One hour for Canary Islands" took place in several cities, not only in the archipelago or in major Spanish cities, but also in many cities in several continents. In Brussels, the Greens/EFA were among the promoters of the gathering in the Grand Place.
Together with the unprecedented local resistance groups, claiming for the democratic right of the Canarian peoples' claim of 'No Oil' to be heard, the Greens organised several discussions on the issue, notably accompanying their complaints to the EU through the debates in the Petitions committee of the European Parliament, in order to alert all possible actors to ensure that the EU legislation is respected and the local fauna and flora preserved.
The Greens/EFA group also asked several questions to Cañete about his exact role in this affair during the European Parliament´s hearings with the future Commissioners in September 2014. Green MEPs Ernest Urtasun, Jordi Sebastià, Bart Staes and Bodil Ceballos were among the main promoters of the top-level and technical meetings with the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission in early November, to transmit the cross-party concern about the imminent start of the prospections
Mid-November Hungarian Green MEP Benedeck Jávor also alerted the European Commission in a last occasion, coinciding with the start of the drilling operations. He sent a written Parliamentary question asking which measures the Commission had plan to take to ensure the protection for the ultra-deep water ecosystems in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. The Environment Commissioner Vella committed to request more information from the Spanish authorities.
The group is extremely pleased that Repsol have decided to stop its activities in the Canary Islands. As the local resistance groups have shown, the Canarias Islands can really become an example of best practice referring to its management and energy self-sufficiency. The solution to the crisis in these Islands is not oil exploitation, as the Spanish Industry and Energy Minister recommended, but to invest in renewable energies.
The Greens will continue their advocacy work for this important cause, pressing the European Commission to take a clear stand and move towards a EU-wide ban of such projects in the future, in the Canary islands or elsewhere.
Read the Greens/EFA’s study on the impact on climate change on all European islands here for more details about the risks faced by the Canarias Islands.