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Black gold rocks boats in Spain

By IBI Magazine/Roberta Etter

Investment in the oil sector has risen by 75 per cent to nearly €45 million (£30.5 million) over the past year encouraging several companies to investigate the possibility of starting or increasing oil production in Spain.

"There is oil in Spain," oil expert Carlos Alvarez is quoted as saying in Spanish newspaper El Pais. "Not large fields, but small or medium-size deposits, which the high price of oil could now make attractive," he explained.

Spain only produced 1.23 million barrels of oil in 2005, down from 1.87 million barrels in 2004. Domestic production, mainly in the east of the country, accounts for less than 1 per cent of Spain's consumption. A total of a dozen companies are looking into the possibility of further exploration.

The number one Spanish giant Repsol YPF, which extracts oil in the eastern Mediterranean and gas in the Gulf of Cadiz, has obtained permission to prospect in various regions including the Canary Islands. Number two, Cepsa, is exploring the northwestern Pyrenees with a view to drilling there by 2010. Basque Shesa is looking at regions to the north while Petroleum is focusing on the eastern coast off Tarragona.

Bureaucracy, the high cost of oil exploration and counter claims have plagued all of the companies but it has been MedOil´s interest in the waters off the coast of Valencia that has provoked the greatest furore.

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, Counselor for Territory and Housing, stated Tuesday that he was seeking "an urgent meeting" in order to ask the Government not to allow British company MedOil to undertake exploration for oil off the coast of Albufera and right in the middle of the Americas Cup racecourse. The Counselor also stated that any possible exploration would go against article 16 of the Hydrocarbon Law, as it will have a severely detrimental effect on the local environment.

The Valencian government, which has invested millions in America's Cup 2007, has called the plan a "totally unjustified aggression against one of the most important events ever to be staged in the history of the region." The cause has also been taken up on a European level by David Hammerstein of the Green Party, who stated that the authorisation given to Medoil was "stupid, and one that could have extremely serious consequences."

Right-wingers allege that the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has almost constantly tried to impede the progress of the Valencian region, and that this is further demonstrated by their recent decision to allow the British company to undertake prospecting exercises just 5km (3 miles) off the coast of Valencia. This puts the area where Medoil will be working precisely in the middle of the course of the Americas Cup races next year and equidistant from Albufera Natural Park.

(14 September 2006)

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