Sadly, Spain is one of Europe’s least energy sufficient nations, having to import some 99% of its gas and oil needs.
It’s no wonder then that central government has just given permission for the commencement of oil exploration in the waters between Valencia and the Balearic Islands. This is despite considerable opposition – from regional and provincial government representatives, from local town halls, from environmental groups, from residents associations and from tourism trade associations. These opponents argue that there will be damage to the environment, harm to sea life and incalculable damage to tourism, once pictures of Spanish oil rigs are sent around the world.
Calls from the Izquierda Plural party (ICV) to cancel licences and geological surveys have been turned down. The geological surveys will be carried out by Capricorn Spain Limited, a sister company of Cairn Energy, and will occur between October and February next.
The pro-exploration voices, although remarkably muted thus far, point out the potential for increases in employment. Many expatriates, who have lived near coasts where drilling has occurred off shore, indicate that very little damage has been in evidence – to the environment, or to tourism.
Perhaps the last word on the topic this time around goes to the approving authorities, who remind everyone that all that’s been sanctioned is exploration – not drilling. On the other hand, there’s no doubt the decision is influenced by the discovery of oil deposits off the Canaries, estimated to be some 500 million barrels of crude.
Mindful of the millions of people still unemployed, with the economy showing only modest signs of recovery, the Spanish government seems to be willing to brush aside environmental worries and give the green light to oil companies. Thus far, 70 licences have been approved for the exploration of both shale gas and conventional resources.
Already it is evident that the most likely areas for shale gas are in the north – in the Basque country, Asturias and Cantabria. Initial explorations have commenced, in Asturias and Castilla y Leon. While a number of regional governments have outlawed fracking – central government has passed legislation that overrules regional administrations on the matter. The organisation Shale Gas Espana claims that while shale gas will not make Spain self sufficient, fracking will allow Spain to be 60% rather than 80% reliant on conventional gas.
Until recently, there was heavy investment in renewables. So much so that wind power now provides 20% of the grid and solar 3%. However, the government seems to have lost its relish for renewables, and has made severe subsidy cuts.
One prediction, by an expert in the industry, suggests that Spain, with all the current oil and gas exploration activity, could become a gas exporter by 2030/2031, while producing 20% of the oil it consumes