Start of the fight : 16/03/2012
Fight won by : Wim
On the 16th of March 2012, the Spanish government gave the green light to a deep water oil exploration project off the coast of the Canary Islands despite the strong opposition made up of environmental associations, fishermen, tourism professionals, and local institutions. Oil exploitation in this area would have a direct impact on the marine mammals which pass through these waters during their annual migration. The government of the Canary Islands supports a ‘point blank dismissal' of the plans. They are worried about the inevitable consequences this exploration would have for the islands' tourism, and they are planning to take legal action to stop the exploration.
The Keeper, Wim, initiated a petition, which is currently circulating the Surfrider network and which can be accessed online. It has already collected more than 18,000 signatures. In March 2012, following a call for mobilisation launched by a group of associations including SFE, 22,000 and 12,000 people gathered in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura respectively to demonstrate their opposition to the project.
The petition saw a highlight moment thanks to the distribution of 5,000 post cards to the general public aimed at conveying information and raising awareness. These post cards were designed pro bono by an arts student, and they made a significant impact in the written press and on TV. They were consequently sent to the Spanish government to make them aware of the strong opposition to any oil exploration plans in the Canary Islands. Additionally, King Mohammed VI of Morocco expressed his opposition to the project in June 2012, as the zones demarcated for the oil exploration form part of the Moroccan continental shelf. In response, the government of the Canary Islands called upon the European Union to clarify the legality of the granted exploration permits.
In November 2012, the President of the Municipal Council of Fuerteventura, Mario Cabrera, asked the Spanish Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry to consider the environmental disasters caused by the Prestige and the Deepwater Horizon before taking a similar risk just off the coasts of the Canary Islands. Parallel to the legal and governmental actions, the Keeper keeps disseminating information and raising public awareness by organising beach clean-ups, by giving interviews, and by arranging screenings of a film on the Prestige disaster.
In February 2013, a new petition with an innovative concept was launched: Every new signature automatically sends out an email to the relevant minister. In March, a video on the project Yes to Renewables, No to Oil Drilling in Canaries was produced. Very recently, the Spanish government announced that in accordance with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), an in-depth impact study would be commissioned.
Early 2001: Repsol (Spanish Oil Company) submits its oil exploration project for an area at 25 km off the coast of the Canary Islands.
2001: A royal decree by the Spanish government authorises Repsol to go ahead with the oil exploration and to install probes, which will allow them to check if there are any oil fields off the Lanzarote coast. A similar operation had previously been carried out in cooperation with Morocco, but in shallower waters. The probes would be in Moroccan waters, and the Spanish royal decree does not mention any buffering measures in case there are any problems with the probes.
2004: The government of the Canary Islands submits a request during the Zapatero reign, and the royal decree is annulled.
March 2012: Eight years later and following a change of government in Spain, Repsol once more obtains authorisation to undertake its project.
The Spanish government endorses a deep water oil exploration project off the coast of the Canary Islands, despite strong opposition from environmental associations, fisher people, tourism professionals, but also local institutions.
The government of the Canary Islands announces that it will take legal action to stop the exploration. The reaction of the Vice-President of the Canary Islands' Government is unmistakable: "We are in favour of a total rejection", José Miguel Perez confirms before reminding that "the future of the Canary Islands lies in renewable energies and in the fight against climate change". In fact, one of the Canary Islands, El Herrio, 'the first 100% renewable island', is self-sufficient thanks to the use of wind energy. The decision-makers of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote stress that the economic development of these islands is very sensitive to ecological damage as it is based on tourism, which is hardly compatible with the oil industry.
An appeal for mobilisation is launched to inform the general public, coupled with an invitation to participate in the various rallies which are held on different Canary islands and also in Madrid:
24th of March 2012: 22,000 people gather in Lanzarote, 12,000 in Fuerteventura, and several thousand in other towns and cities.
No EIS (Environmental Impact Study) was carried out on the environment and the tourism sector. Alternatives such as solar power or wind energy have not been considered.
22nd of March 2012: A traditional clean-up operation is organised on Fuerte Beach.
Result: 20 buckets of tar in 2 hours. Reason: Passing ships navigating the north coast of Fuerteventura.
April 2012: An online petition is transmitted to our entire European network. (more than 15,000 signatures in only a few weeks)
18th of May 2012: Organisation of a big festive event: "Come, dance and say no to oil platforms" (more than 100 participants). Unfortunately, a large village celebration took place on the 19th, so not many were able to take part in the festivities on the 18th.
June 2012: Announcement that King Mohammed VI opposes the oil exploration envisaged by Repsol and authorised by Spain, in a maritime zone of 50 km around the Canary Islands, based on the fact that the area demarcated for the search form part of the Moroccan continental shelf.
July 2012: The Canary Islands' Government calls upon the EU, demanding explanations from Spain on the legality of the granted permits.
August 2012: The Habitats Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora is the most important piece of EU environmental legislation. It requires EU Member States to protect specific habitat types by integrating them into a network of protected areas (both on land and at sea) called Natura 2000.
In the Canary Islands, not a single 'Special Area of Conservation' has been declared to protect the reefs and the underwater structures created by subterranean gas emissions. Furthermore, the oil exploration activities planned by Repsol in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura would put these same habitats - which should clearly be incorporated in the Natura 2000 network - directly in the line of fire. According to a recent Spanish report, 12 different types of habitat and 82 species are being threatened by this project. The oil company Repsol did not inform the Spanish Government of the presence of protected habitats in the area where they are planning on carrying out their activities, despite the fact that there is proof for their existence.
31st of August 2012: Printing of 5,000 post cards with the KOC logo on recycled paper. This action is financed through Help for Local Initiatives as part of the KOC programme (€300). The post cards are designed free of charge by an Arts student (Mikol Olivares) and are freely available in guesthouses, tourist offices, shops, etc. The aim is to make tourists aware of the threat and invite them to sign the petition. So far, 16,000 signatures have been collected.
September 2012: The Canary Islands' media widely reports on the issue and several interviews are carried out.
The post cards receive government backing.
17th of November 2012: Prestige film screening
20th of November 2012: Article in Europapress.es
The President of the Fuerteventura Cabildo (Island Council) Mario Cabrera asks the Spanish Prime Minister (Mariano Rajoy) and the Spanish Minister for Industry, Energy and Tourism (José Manuel Soria) to consider the environmental disasters of the Prestige and the Gulf of Mexico. If such an accident was to take place off the Canary Islands it would have catastrophic consequences for the islands.
Late 2012: New objective: 100,000 signatures.
December 2012: Within the framework of the AIE, €300 are offered for joining the project to cross the Atlantic in a sailing boat to raise public awareness on the potential environmental impacts of the project.
27th of December 2012: The boat sinks five miles off the Canary Islands coast and the three crew members are rescued. The project is postponed but the Keeper, Wim, is not giving up.
February 2013: Launch of a new petition with the concept that for every signature, an email is automatically sent to the relevant ministry.
June 2013: An environmental impact study will now have to be implemented before drilling can begin in accordance with the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).