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The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

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The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

The Artic Sunrise

 The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

The rainbow stopped me dead in my tracks, and to my horror I followed it down and concluded that my pot of gold would logically have sunk into the ocean!

Then I realised, I was witnessing Greenpeaces Arctic Sunrise dock in Malaga’s port.

Ever a keen supporter of the earth’s well being, I was elated at the prospect of boarding the ship and even momentarily feeling like I was making a difference. We were taken on a tour of the vessel and discovered that it was built in 1975 and ironically was initially used for commercial seal hunting, and later as a supply vessel for Antarctic oil and mineral exploitation. As the third of Greenpeace’s ships, she’s now clearly making up for past misdeeds!


The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol



So to what did we owe the pleasure of her visit?


Let’s go back a few months to put things into perspective …. the Ukrainian crisis; and with it the debate surrounding European energy dependency.

The current energy system is heavily based on fossil fuels, which creates a huge foreign energy dependency for countries.

Consider these facts:

  • Europe currently spends over 500 billion Euros in energy imports and most of this money ends up in Russia (that’s 53% of energy consumption from beyond its borders)
  • Europe imports 90% of the crude oil it consumes, 66% of its gas, 42% of solid fuels and 40% of its nuclear fuel
  • Spain imports 86.2% of its primary energy which includes virtually all of its oil (around 95%)

A study by the European Commission predicts that, if no new policies are conducted, Europe will continue to import most of its energy needs.
This weakness has left Europe exposed to threats of shortages in times of conflict, such as the one caused by the current Russian threat to cut off the gas supply to Europe via its pipeline in Ukraine.

To solve problems like this one, several political options are being considered including diversifying supply routes and using domestic fossil fuels. As well as leading to an increase in energy costs, these short-term measures to diversify fossil fuel supply sources would not help Europe nor Spain to achieve their targets of reducing their dependency on energy imports, nor protect the climate. It would also block the real solution, based on renewables and energy efficiency.


The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

The Dolphins of the Alboran Sea



In the last few years there has been a renewed frenzy by the Spanish governments (the previous and current ones) in looking for hydrocarbons both in the ground (unconventional gas through fracking) as well as in deep waters along our coasts (the Canary and Balearic Islands, Gulf of Valencia, Alboran Sea, Catalonia, Cantabrian Sea). These are projects that are seeking to extract oil, from a depth of over 1,500 metres through oil platforms in open waters.

The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

Greenpeace Protest



Most recently, in August 2014, the energy company Repsol was given the official go-ahead by the Spanish government to prospect for oil off the coast of the Canary Islands, despite opposition raised from the regional government and locals. (The Arctic Sunrise is currently in the Canary Islands to raise awareness against prospecting and drilling – in case you were still wondering!) Nonetheless, Repsol has three years in which to carry out their prospecting in the waters off Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Should their search for hydrocarbons be positive, commercial extraction could begin in 2019?

With unemployment at 33% on the islands, industry and tourism minister Joe Manuel Soria has insisted that Spain cannot afford the luxury of not knowing whether the gas and oil reserves exist or not.

So, in their defence. The government has ensured that there is a 40 million civil responsibility policy, as well as a 20 million fund to cover any environmental responsibility costs from Repsol. They will also be required to stop all activities in the event of any kind of accident, including if an earthquake stronger than a magnitude of 4.5 were to strike the region. They will also have to provide access to a range of inspections over the course of the exploration process. The two wells that Repsol plans to drill 55 kilometres offshore could yield as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day, estimating that the Canary Islands could provide 10 percent of Spain’s hydrocarbon needs.

But ….. Environmentalists, like The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), warn that the impact of oil production on the island’s rich and varied marine life will be catastrophic. The waters are home to nearly a third of the worlds whale and dolphin species. In the event of any kind of spill or accident, the island’s tourism sector, which contributes almost a third of the GDP, will be negatively affected, as would fishing and seawater (which is desalinated and used for household purposes).

Understandably, it is a heated and sensitive topic. And not the only one! Also causing outrage at the moment is the Scottish company, Cairn Energy, which has licenses for oil exploration in the Gulf of Valencia, off the coast of Ibiza.

So what exactly is involved?

Investigations in the search for hydrocarbons in the sea comprise different phases and each one of them has its own environmental impacts.

First phase:

In the first phase, the oil companies seek seismic, magnetic, gravimetric surveys and geological information not only within permitted areas, but also anything that may be relevant for regional studies, including satellite and geology data of land neighbouring permitted areas. Environmental studies are carried out prior to seismic acquisition.

Second phase:

The second phase comprises the acoustic surveys required in seismic acquisition and those that determine the physical characteristics of the seabed and establish the degree of probability of finding hydrocarbons. To do this, sound waves are emitted via a high-pressure barrel with a sound level of 215 – 265 decibels (the pain threshold for humans for noise emission is 120 decibels) and a frequency between 10 – 250Hz. The scientific

community has adopted 180 decibels as a sound intensity level that can produce irreversible damage in cetaceans. Due to the seismic impact of the waves, the practice also generates slime and mud, as well as the possible release of pollutants from the subsoil: arsenic, lead or benzene. Likewise, it produces changes in the behaviour of fauna due to the sound stress on the environment that leads to, for example, a reduction in fish catches.

The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

The Threat of Pollution


Third phase:

The third phase is when the drilling occurs on the seabed in order for samples to be taken. This is frequently the cause of pollution accidents and hydrocarbon waste ends up on beaches. Sludge compression is used in this phase, and puts pressure on the oil pocket and thus avoids explosions when drilling, due to the gas contained within it. It is also used the lubricate the drills and strengthen the walls of the well. The sludge contains varying amounts of highly polluting materials such as barium sulphate and other chemical compounds and polymers, including heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds.

Likewise, materials used in the injection process include dispersants, corrosion inhibitors and biocides. Through routine contamination during exploration, polycyclic aromatic compounds and heavy metals can enter the food chain and their toxicity would thus generate health problems related to the consumption of fish products.

In addition, the debris generated by the drilling is normally dumped in the sea and stays on the seabed, contaminated by the sludge compaction. The increase in the induced concentration of hydrocarbons around a drilling platform is significant and can reach up to 10,000 times natural levels. This causes chronic pollution as well as increasing the amount of weathered crude (“chapapote”) that reaches the shore, affecting the quality of beaches for tourists.

The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

The Danger to the Coastline

Fourth phase:

The last phase takes place in the event that companies find hydrocarbons of sufficient quantity and quality. They request authorisation to commercially exploit the oil or gas. It is possibly the most dangerous phase of all due to the ongoing risk of significant spills and systematic pollution by hydrocarbons in bordering areas.

So, why do Greenpeace, amongst others, oppose oil prospecting?

In most parts of the word, and particularly in Spain, new crude extractions are not the answer to solve the problem of foreign energy dependency, but quite the opposite:

it is a step backwards in the search for alternatives to oil such as renewables and energy efficiency.

Not only does prospecting not solve the problem of energy dependency, it also exacerbates other environmental problems, such as climate change, and has a huge local impact in the regions where it is carried out, environmental as well as economical.

Burning hydrocarbons is the BIGGEST cause of climate change in the planet.

If the worst impacts of this are to be avoided, the global rise in temperature has to remain below 2ºC. To this end, two thirds of combustible fossil reserves that are underground must be left undeveloped, according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). However and despite these recommendations, the demand for oil continues to rise and due to the finite nature of this resource, oil companies continue to look for crude in ever more remote and least accessible regions, facing technical difficulties and ever greater risks. This is the case for extracting in deep waters or other techniques to exploit oil from unconventional sources, such as tar sands (with bitumen), oil shale or extra heavy oil.

According to a report by ACIEP, (the Spanish exploration companies association), deposits in the Gulf of Valencia, the Ebro Delta and Gulf of Leon could amount to 272 million barrels of crude oil at best. Spain consumes

1.5 million a day, so it would be equivalent to just half a years supply at the most! In the Canary Islands, although there are estimated deposits, the reality is that as yet they have not been found.

The solution is in Renewables and Energy Efficiency!

A strategy that prioritises energy saving and the development of renewable energies would significantly reduce Europes dependency on energy imports in the short and long term. Also, it would end the environmental problems arising from the use of fossil fuels. This strategy would also create more jobs than investments in the supply of fossil fuels.

The potential for renewable energies in Spain is enormous. It has enough renewable resources to supply 10 times the country’s energy demand in 2050.

Furthermore the cost of renewable energies is falling, making it an even more competitive and profitable option. Spain is proof of this: in 2013 it achieved “grid parity” for clean energies with the market price when a photovoltaic plant in Seville started to sell its electricity in the wholesale market like other conventional electricity producers without the need for bonuses.

According to figures worldwide, the cost of solar energy has fallen by 80% since 2008 and wind power by 29%. The Economist claims that the cost of solar technology has fallen by 99% since the 1970s. DONG, the largest United Kingdom wind power developer, claims that offshore wind power will be cheaper than nuclear energy and possibly gas by 2020.

And this is all good news, irrespective of the fact that renewables have come to a huge standstill in Spain due to the policies of the current government.

The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ on the Costa del Sol

You and I can make a difference. Even if its just by being a big fan!!

What can you do? Sign in here to protest

Further reading: Greenpeace 

Reference material Sourced from Greenpeace


Published in Costa del Sol Property News |