Although famed as the party isle of the Baleares, there’s little cheer doing the rounds in Ibiza currently. In fact more than 50 organisations on the island including town halls, government and tourism institutions and political entities have got together to form lobbying group, Alianza Mar Blava, in the hope of stopping oil exploration offshore later this year.
Back in 2011, Cairn, a Scottish oil and gas exploration company, obtained licenses from the Spanish government to explore for oil off the Eastern coast of Spain at Cabo de la Nao which lies between the Gulf of Valencia and the island of Ibiza. The licenses allow the company to operate drilling rigs and oil platforms in its search for oil and it is currently awaiting the go ahead from the Spanish government to commence its initial exploration. Now as that moment draws closer environmental organisations such as Oceana which in the last two years have carried out ecological studies of the area, warn of serious potential environmental impact from the seismic surveys and drilling. Its view is that many protected areas and nearly 200 species could be affected if the company is given the green light.
Now local politicians have weighed into the debate with Balearic regional president José Ramón Bauzá voicing his opposition to the scheme which he believes will have an adverse effect on tourism in all of the islands. The EU is also watching from the sidelines and will need convincing that environmental safeguards are put in place before giving its blessing to proceed.
Five oil refineries operated by local company Repsol already exist in Spain and some would argue that a new plant could provide much needed work for locals especially during the economic downturn. Opponents to the scheme insist that there would always be the risk of catastrophic oil leaks beneath the sea such as that witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 which would cause the destruction of countless fish, mammals and birds. It is also argued that the oil rig would be situated in the path of the western Mediterranean’s migratory corridor used by whales, dolphins and turtles and that there would inevitably be an accumulation of toxic chemicals during the second and third phase of the project. And there is also growing concern about how the disruption might impact on marine plant life, especially the endangered meadows of Posidonia oceanica -that have UNESCO Heritage status – which have a crucial role in preserving the Mediterranean’s ecosystems and offer an important habitat for invertebrates including larvae and young fish. In 2006 a huge colony of ancient posidonia considered to be up to 100,000 years old – one of the most extensive and oldest on earth – was discovered south of Ibiza and islanders and environmentalists fear for its future.
Meanwhile petitions have been raised and a social media campaign created entitled #Eivissadiuno (Ibiza says no) in the hope of halting the drilling and celebrities including Jade Jagger, Kate Moss, Paris Hilton and James Blunt have apparently joined the fray. Well meaning though they are it’s highly unlikely that their intervention will carry much weight with the Spanish government which might in any case find it extremely tricky to extricate itself from its contract with Cairn.
The only real hope of stopping exploration for oil off Ibiza will be on environmental grounds. In its new energy plan, the EU has decreed that there should be a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 27 per cent increase in renewable energy use by 2030. If its view is that the oil exploration project flies in the face of its new proposals and would genuinely herald dire consequences for marine life, there’s a good chance that it could turn up the heat and make life very uncomfortable for the Spanish government.
That aside, surely any government with a clue about tourism would acknowledge that the eyesore of oil rigs off Ibiza’s golden coastline might not be the best way to attract future international holidaymakers – the economic lifeline of the Balearic islands? But of course it wouldn’t be the first time that greed killed the golden goose.
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