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environment

Repsol plan to prospect for oil off the Canaries raises hackles on the islands

Company chief says work would start in 2014 and would involve 9bn euros of investment

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

A date has now been set for the oil prospecting that Repsol is planning in waters off the Canary Islands: May 2014. That is, of course, if the government grants all the necessary environmental permits.

So said company chairman Antonio Brufau this week, triggering a new episode in the war against the project that is being waged by island authorities.

The head of Repsol flew to Gran Canaria to remind residents of the potential lying under their waters, and to ask them to let Repsol set up operating bases in their ports.

“We have asked the Cabildos [island councils] for support getting the work started. Fuerteventura or Lanzarote would be ideal because they are the islands closest to the project,” he said.

But it is unlikely that the ports of Rosario (Fuerteventura) or Arrecife (Lanzarote) are going to welcome a project that island authorities have been fighting vocally. They feel that in case of an accident, the environmental impact would be disastrous for territories with a high ecological value and great potential for eco-tourism.

“If anybody says no, they’re sure to regret it in the future,” warned Brufau, adding that if he gets no answer in 15 to 20 days, he will seek other options, such as the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, “which has better, more economical services.” In fact, he might just take his business to Morocco, he suggested. “We are not contemplating it for now, but this is a global world.”

After that, Brufau talked money: the company is willing to invest over nine billion euros for as long as the prospecting lasts, if oil is found. Over half of that money would represent wealth for the territory where the base of operations is headquartered.

Canary Island premier Paulino Rivero, on a visit to Brussels to discuss this very issue with Environment Commissioner Karl Falkenberg, replied curtly: “We Canary islanders do not sell ourselves for a plate of lentil soup.” He also recommended that Brufau “forget about buying people off.”

Yet Brufau knows that he is dealing with a region with 33-percent unemployment, and he could not resist rubbing salt in the wound. “Is there such an excess of jobs in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote?” he inquired.

Rivero said that the core of the matter is the growth model that residents of the Canaries want for themselves, and also the fact that 70 percent of the water consumed on the islands comes from desalination, meaning that the risk of an oil spill is too great a consideration, the news agency Efe reports.

A year ago, the head of Repsol held a meeting with Paulino Rivero that was described as “cordial, friendly and heartwarming.” But the statements that both men aimed at each other on Wednesday seemed anything but that.

And Rivero is not the only one lobbing accusations at Repsol. The head of the Fuerteventura council, Mario Cabrera, recently called Brufau and his workers “petroleum pirates.”