Outrage Against Drilling in Canary Islands - Oceana USA
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March 31, 2012

Outrage Against Drilling in Canary Islands

Editor’s note: This is a guest contribution by Oceana supporter Lauren Linzer, who lives on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, which are just off the west coast of Africa. 

Along with many other nations around the world, Spain has been desperately searching for solutions to relieve the increasing financial woes the country is facing. 

With a significant portion of its oil supply being imported and oil prices skyrocketing, attention to cutting down on this lofty expense has turned toward a tempting opportunity to drill for oil offshore in their own territory. 

The large Spanish petrol firm, REPSOL, has declared an interest in surveying underwater land dangerously close to the Spanish Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. This would, in theory, cut down significantly on spending for the struggling country, providing a desperately needed financial boost.

But are the grave ecological repercussions worth the investment?  There is much debate around the world about this controversial subject; but on the island of Lanzarote, it is clear that this will not be a welcome move.

Last week, protesters from around the island gathered in the capital city of Arrecife to demonstrate their opposition to the exploration for underwater oil.  With their faces painted black and picket signs in hand, an estimated 22,000 people (almost one fifth of the island’s population) walked from one side of the city to the other, chanting passionately and marching to the beat of drums that lead the pack.  Late into the night, locals of all ages and occupations joined together to express their dire concerns. 

Besides the massive eyesore that the site of the drilling will introduce off the east coast, the ripple effects to islanders will have a devastating impact.  The most obvious industry that will take a serious hit will be tourism, which the island depends on heavily.  Most of the large touristic destinations are on the eastern shore due to the year-round excellent weather and plethora of picturesque beaches.  But with the introduction of REPSOL’s towers a mere 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the island’s most populated beaches, the natural purity and ambient tranquility that draws so many European travelers will be a thing of the past. 

Beyond the defaced natural setting, the sea level and temperature will inevitably change dramatically, and with the coastal waters being densely populated with sea life, this will have a devastating impact for the underwater creatures and the lucrative fishing industry. 

This change does not take into account the shattering results of a potential catastrophe similar to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The necessary depth of drilling in this prospective site would match that of the Deepwater Horizon spill (1,500 meters), for which there is still no rapid intervention technology in place.

While the possibility of this level of destruction is not a high likelihood, if the waters were to be poisoned, the water supply to the entire island would be almost eliminated.  Lanzarote’s dry climate and absence of ground water makes the ocean the primary source of potable water.  The island’s large desalination plant is located in the capital city of Arrecife, on the east coast, and in extreme proximity to the point of drilling. 

These factors have sparked the attention of more than the locals in the potentially affected areas.  Rallies have already been held all over the peninsula, pickets raised in cities like Barcelona and Madrid.  Along with Spaniards, many international environmental groups, including Oceana, vehemently oppose Spain’s decision to risk ravishing the delicate marine ecosystem.

But this issue is a sensitive one, and with more people feeling the painful effects of the economic crisis, ineffective methods to cutting costs and feeble attempts at reducing oil consumption are simply not working.  All around the globe, as oil prices climb, the need for alternative forms of energy are absolutely essential.