Information provided by Repsol Investigaciones Petrolíferas, S. A. (RIPSA, Repsol’s Oil Investigation unit), which is promoting the drilling of the seabed in front of Spain’s Costa del Sol, and the Spanish Ministry for the Environment, does not reflect the reality of the habitats that will be damaged.
Oceana found important habitat such as oyster reefs, white-cluster anemones, gorgonian gardens and extensions of sponges and deep-sea ascidia in the exact location that Repsol is to search for hydrocarbons. The Spanish Ministry for the Environment just released a positive Environmental Impact Statement on the Siroco exploration project in Western Mediterranean, only 9km off Malaga’s coast (Costa del Sol). However, Oceana filmed the seabed of the area with an underwater robot (ROV) last week, proving that threatened species that are protected by national and international regulations can be found in the area.
The Spanish Ministry for the Environment’s statement on the exploratory test drilling, recently published in Spain’s Official Journal, only includes the presence of annelids, molluscs and arthropods in the area, leaving aside many other relevant taxonomic groups found and documented by Oceana. The Environmental Impact Statement barely acknowledges the long list of pleadings to the project received from several organisations and institutions, known for their knowledge on the oceans, its habitats, resources and ecological processes.
“The pleadings submitted describe in detail the serious impact that developing these activities would have not only on the numerous fauna and flora species of the area, but on the whole ecosystem, from the coast to the deep areas, as well as from the pelagic to the benthonic environments. All of these would be seriously threatened by this hydrocarbon test drilling”, stated Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director at Oceana in Europe. “The Spanish Ministry for the Environment’s decision in favour of this activity is completely incoherent and goes against its obligations under international conventions and European directives on the protection of the marine environment, as well as against international efforts to reduce global warming given the excessive use of fossil fuels”.
The document reflects Repsol’s clear lack of knowledge on the existence of two marine canyons in the midst of their exploratory test drilling plans (Calahonda and Fuengirola Canyons) which means that they have not conducted an appropriate assessment of the impact on these formations and their biodiversity. This is a big gap that cannot be disregarded by a proper Environmental Impact Assessment, given the fact that marine canyons and other marine elevations of the area are priority objectives for global research and marine conservation, due to their high productivity and life-concentration spots for the ocean.
“Repsol’s and the Spanish Ministry for the Environment’s attitudes are outraging. They have either conducted an Impact Assessment hiding all this information to the public, or they have not even bothered to study the area that will be affected by these activities”, reported Mr. Aguilar.
Oceana’s Executive Director in Europe, Xavier Pastor, added: “There is a serious contradiction between the speech given by government officials and the facts. In all their public statements, seminars, conferences, etc. Government spokespeople talk about how essential it is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and avoid increased CO2 emissions to fight climate change. However, instead of conducting studies on the environmental impact of spill-free offshore wind farms to promote their implementation, the government just keeps on granting hydrocarbon prospecting licenses on Spain’s entire coast”.
Numerous species and habitats listed in several national and international protection lists would find themselves seriously threatened: habitats and species of European Importance according to the Habitats Directive such as bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and oyster reefs; important deep-sea areas of regional importance in the Mediterranean listed by the Barcelona Convention, such as the Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows, maërl or detritical and sediment-rich deeps.
During its expedition, Oceana has even found habitats that should be included in the Spanish National Parks Network. In addition, several species of commercial interest would be harmed, which would represent a remarkable impact on the area’s economic activities such as tourism or fishing.
Lastly, it is important to note that the area in question presents strong marine currents. In the event of an oil spill, it would be virtually uncontrollable and the affected area could easily expand, compared to those areas that do not present marine currents of this type.
Oceana has pictures and video footage available (download via webdisk)
More information: Oceana Ranger 2011 Expedition